The Fearsome Five: 2014’s Weird October Food Post

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Kanikko, the world’s crunchiest baby sacrifice.

Every year, I compile a list of Octobery foods, be they weird and wacky or healthful and harvested. Each item may not be brand new, but has somehow infiltrated the headlines, and made its way to my Google-searching fingers. I’ve shied away from the Halloween-ized foods that otherwise aren’t so different from their year-round counterparts, like orange donuts and boo-ritos. Below, though, you’ll find some foodie finds, fast-food anomalies, and slightly scary snacks culled from various places … often Japan. Read on!

1. According to The National Restaurant Association, ‘forbidden rice’ is an emerging foodie trend, along with emu eggs and black garlic. If blue tortilla chips, then why not purple rice? It may not thrill your kids when served up as a starch but it’s popping up in fine-dining restaurants all over the world.

2. Kanikko, seen above, is one of Japan’s many, many weird contributions to the global food scene. This tasty snack combines seafood and sweets in candied baby crabs, which are described as sweet, salty and “majorly crunchy.”

3. In keeping with the Japanese theme, the island-nation’s fast food chains never disappoint this time of year. McDonald’s was first out of the gate with its Halloween menu item this season, an orange and black hamburger that’s not stomach-turning at all.

It’s colored with squid ink and orange chipotle sauce, and joins the Ghostly Camembert Chicken Filet Sandwich (Camembert?) and the Pumpkin Oreo McFlurry, which needs to come stateside ASAP.

4. For the entertainer in all of us, I picked this horrifying meat and cheese platter that will leave visions of Hellraiser dancing in your head.

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These are called Meatheads and are being created by slightly-off event planners everywhere… a quick image search will haunt your dreams for days.

Surprisingly, though, they’re likely to be a crowd-pleaser featuring cold cuts, cheese, olives, and hard-boiled eggs … the latter two ingredients make up the unnerving eyeballs. One website even suggests that turkey and prosciutto work best as the undead flesh.

5. As someone who used to live on Mulberry Street — the actual Mulberry Street that inspired the book — I’m a fan of all things Seuss.

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This year, HuffPo identified 13 foods that were, or could’ve been, inspired by Dr. Seuss himself including and beyond Green Eggs and Ham. My choice for this list is number eight — spinach cake, which actually looks great. (See what I did there?)

Some Pig: Sustainable butchery brings traditional flavors to the table

I’m a big talk-radio fan, and I was just listening to the Chewing the Fat food show and its commentary on whole-animal butchery.

It’s still a ‘gourmet’ practice in the U.S., say the Chewing the Fat hosts. Some restaurants are doing it, but it hasn’t caught on as a best practice yet. The segment reminded me of an article I wrote a few years ago on the same subject, about a restaurant practicing whole-animal butchery on a regular basis. The Berkshires are typically on the leading edge of sustainable food trends, and it was nice to know I had a little bit of a working knowledge of a culinary tactic that’s just now approaching main stream. Where will sustainable butchery be in a few years? Time and tables will tell.

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Every other week, Fiori Restaurant’s executive chef Alex Feldman purchases one pig from Leahey Farm of Lee, Mass., a local purveyor just two towns over from the eatery’s home in Great Barrington.

It’s a formidable purchase: 200-pounds of pork is no easy feat to transport, let alone prepare. But soon after it reaches Fiori’s kitchen, Feldman sets to work creating a wide array of Northern Italian dishes, using as much of the pig as is possible. This traditional approach to food preparation is being seen more and more in the Berkshires and beyond; not only does it showcase an endless number of flavors, it’s an example of whole-animal butchery, a much more sustainable option than the techniques that have been used in restaurants across the country for decades.

From one source, Fiori offers Bolognese sauce for its house-made pastas, handmade sausages, ribs, head cheese, ciccioli – savory, pressed chips made from the belly of the pig – and panino sandwiches, to name a few dishes. The capstone of Feldman’s whole-animal repertoire, however, is traditional porchetta, a boneless pork roast that is often a sign of celebration across Italy.

Slow-roasted on a spit over a wood-fire grill, porchetta includes an herb stuffing layered into the meat, fat, and skin – at Fiori, this blend includes sage, parsley, and rosemary, garlic, fennel, and lemon. It’s served in myriad ways, from small bites to entrees. Feldman has even put his own spin on Eggs Benedict at brunch, adding seasoned porchetta to a slice of fresh ciabatta toast and a poached egg smothered in pickled-chili Hollandaise sauce. He said this wide array of dishes is yet another reason whole-animal butchery is gaining popularity among chefs.

“Working with the whole animal when preparing meat dishes not only guards against waste, but also allows us freedom over the cuts of meat and, ultimately, the dishes we choose to create,” he explained. “The quality is better, the process honors the age-old practice of butchery, and it also helps to support the local food scene.”

Indeed, Porchetta and other pork dishes created in the whole-animal philosophy are just one example of locally sourced ingredients at Fiori. Greens are purchased from Equinox Farm in Sheffield, Mass., chickens and eggs from North Plain Farm, a free-roam farm in Great Barrington, and rich oyster mushrooms have just recently arrived in the kitchen from Zehr Farms in Ghent, N.Y.

Feldman, who has apprenticed under chefs in Florence, Bologna, and Piedmont, Italy as well as under Chef Mario Batali at New York City’s Babbo restaurant, said Fiori’s goal to remain true to Italian traditions is well aligned with the growing sustainable movement in Berkshire County.

“To create distinctly Italian dishes prepared much like they are abroad, we must use fresh ingredients in innovative ways,” he said. “Whole-animal butchery fits perfectly into our mission.”

Note: Fiori restaurant closed its doors in 2012. Most recently, Chef Alex Feldman could be found at Barcelona Wine Bar in Connecticut.

Gee, Your Food Looks Haunted: 2013 Edition

In the spirit of both Blogtoberfest and Foodieism, I culled some of this year’s stranger food-related headlines for another look at October-appropriate Eats.

The $340,000 Lab-grown Burger

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Recently scientists made headlines by creating a hamburger in a lab that, while genetically identical to beef, isn’t actually beef. It’s more of a muscle-fiber approximation. I’ll let you read more about the Frankenmeat here.

Hungary for Blood

Expedia recently launched Listopedia – basically, a series of travel Bucket Lists – and one of the many collections of randomness included is strange foods around the world. My choice for something that’s a little stomach churning but still within my foodie comfort zone (theoretically) is The Veres.

The Veres is a Hungarian dish with origins somewhere around the 15th century and was once considered a meal of the poor. Apparently, it’s a tasty concoction of pig’s blood, boiled until cooked and minced like meat, then added to other boiled pig organs, also minced, and pieces of boiled bacon. I mean, there’s bacon, so I guess I could give it a try.

The Home of the Ninja

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Leave it to Japan to make American fast food look even stranger than it already does. Burger King Japan has just unveiled its ‘Kuro Ninja‘ burger, a mish-mash of American and Japanese flavors and a giant, wagging tongue protruding out of its jet-black bun.

I actually had to surf through a few different sites to get a complete list of ingredients; as far as I can manage, this limited-release creation consists of wide-size hash browns, onions, lettuce, mayonnaise, a Whopper patty, a huge slab of “King’s Bacon,” and a blackish brown Chaliapin sauce — which I learned is a garlic-onion soy sauce named after a Russian opera singer — on a bun made black by mixing bamboo charcoal into the dough.

I Only have Eyes for You… and ears, and a brain, maybe an appendix

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I’m all about accuracy when it comes to the English language, so I appreciate a chocolatier who makes an anatomically correct candy heart … and plenty of other body parts. Visual Anatomy Limited offers a wide array of organs, limbs, and appendages in white, dark, and milk chocolate. The business also proves that we truly can do anything we set our minds to… VAL is a one-woman outfit specializing in medical illustrations, which led to molds of chocolates…if a chocolate colon isn’t a niche, I don’t know what is.

Read last year’s picks

Whet, Gobble, and Frolic: Dishcrawl Pioneer Valley in Easthampton

DishCrawl EasthamptonTonight’s menu: Cucumber soup, beet salad, burgers and beer, rigatoni, panini, hand-cut fries, homemade ice cream, and cookies.

This was my first experience with DishCrawl, a community-based restaurant touring program with satellites all over the country. The evening was sponsored by DishCrawl Pioneer Valley, the most local branch of the program to me, this past Tuesday … and I believe I’m still digesting.

DishCrawl PV’s diligent Ambassador, Jenn, first got in touch with me on Twitter. It was my first introduction to DishCrawl, but of course, it’s right up my foodie alley. The mission is simple: In one night, dine at four restaurants that help to define a city. The twist is the initial meeting point isn’t revealed until a day or two before the event, and from there, the rest of the stops remain a mystery until it’s time to get up and go.

DishCrawl Pioneer Valley has plenty of communities to choose from in three counties; this month, the event was held in Easthampton, one of my favorite towns. I haven’t been back since BearFest and it was a great summer night to stroll.

DishCrawl EasthamptonJon, my Partner in Calories for the night, and I met the rest of the group at our first stop of the evening: Christine’s Bean Sprout Juice Bar & Cafe. We donned our name tags and joined a table of fellow foodies while Easthampton-based blues act Eva Cappelli and Company serenaded the group. The duo actually accompanied us to every stop, setting up in a corner and picking up the set where they left off.

Christine’s Bean Sprout specializes in vegetarian and Vegan food, and also has a cool selection of coffee and tea accessories and gourmet treats — the ‘Garlic Buttah Popcorn’ caught my eye.

Soon, though, we had a spread of fresh dishes in front of us: Two cold soups — I had the Cucumber Avocado, the other was Beet Orange; aptly named ‘Awesome Paninis’ with cheese and veggies; a carrot, raisin, and quinoa salad; a spinach, goat cheese, and beet salad, and three Gluten-free cookies by Chef Sharlene Jaha of Creative Healthy Cooking. The soup was my favorite dish, but everything was great – local and fresh. Our plates cleared, Jenn let us know where we were headed next, and it was a complete departure from Christine’s earthy vibe.

DishCrawl EasthamptonWhiskerz, Easthampton’s de facto biker bar, was a great place to stretch out and order a beer, which I did right away. We were also served house-made burgers and hand-cut fries as we sipped our brews, which I’ll remember next time I’m in E’ton — probably for the next Open Studio sale. It’s always nice to have a good, quick place to nosh when you’re in town for a specific event.

Next stop! For the Italian in all of us … Nini’s Ristorante, waiting for us with plates of steaming rigatoni Bolognese. Nini’s is cute and very authenticky inside… a fabulous mural on the lounge wall, over-sized Italian advertisement posters in the dining room, and curved doorways carved into stucco walls. The rigatoni was amazing – a perfect blend of cheese, meat, and mild sauce.

If the evening ended there, I’d have been fine. I was stuffed to the gills and the variety had already sated my curiosity… but nay.

There’s dessert to be had.

DishCrawl EasthamptonA short walk — a merciful walk, as it provided a chance for the food in my stomach to shift slightly, creating a small anteroom of space — brought the group to Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream and Candy. I was excited to have a chance to try one of their many flavors — the last time I was in Easthampton, for BearFest, Mt. Tom’s made a special flavor that I never got the chance to try. I’d felt unrequited ever since.

After poring over the rows-upon-rows of candy jars, I moved on to the ice cream blackboard and stared at that for 10 minutes. I finally decided on a no-sugar-added caramel butter pecan… you can judge the taste from my reaction below.

Actually, to be fair, it’s kind of hard to tell from my expression. The ice cream is really good.

DishCrawl Easthampton

The overall verdict? DishCrawl is an affordable, fun night out with plenty of food and drink, as well as an opportunity for a night out with old friends or a chance to make new ones.

JaxRating: Four out of Five