local pickins

High on the Hog…Butchery Class!

Butchering a whole hog was not ever, in my wildest dreams, on my radar as a new hobby I might possibly embrace. However, after attending a class on Pork Butchery by Zeph Shepard from Proletariat – Handcrafted Meats in Portland OR – my food bucket list has a new entry to pass along to all people hankering for a memorable food experience – pork butchery.

 

A delightful collaboration between a west coast butcher and an east coast New England farm, allowed a few daring individuals to be educated on how one goes about butchering a pig, while nibbling on some tasty porcine goodies. I envisioned a class that would have attendees wearing aprons in order to protect us from blood and guts. Not so, instead a smooth as a baby’s bottom, decapitated, entrails removed, pig lay outstretched on a table waiting for the precise butchering of its’ primals. 

Led by Portland OR based master butcher Zeph and hosted by Concord MA Saltbox Farm accomplished chefs Aran and Ralph, this hands on lesson in pork butchering protocol was amazing. Boston butt, pork loin and tenderloin, loin chops, chine on rib chops, St. Louis ribs, baby back ribs, picnic shoulder, ham hock, pork belly, fat back and trotters, we sliced and sawed our way through this freshly slaughtered hog from PT Farm in New Hampshire. 

 

Encouraging hands-on instruction, Zeph educated us on all aspects of Pig Anatomy 101, as well as safety when separating the outer skin from the muscle (he basically told us not to attempt this one step until fully licensed).

This master butcher was engaging, fully knowledgable about his craft and physically fit. After all, breaking down an animal is not an easy task! As the friendly banter continued throughout the evening amongst the guest butcher and resident chefs, participants absorbed extra tidbits of information to take home. 

Primal cuts and second cuts, head cheese, types of knives to use, how to sharpen knives, how to cut through the pig – down and then pull-up on the knife, as well as the blades of a saw, had newly converted butchery students dying to learn more. 

The extra bonus of attending this class at Saltbox Farm was of course, the delicious pork delicacies served throughout our instruction. The unique slices of fatback on a stick, glazed with a tad of maple syrup and soy, gave them a crispy, sweet flavor. While the amazingly, light and perfectly prepared boudin blanc, infused with nutmeg, served alongside beer toast and cornichons, had us praising the chefs for their generous and savory additions to this class. 

Grand finale? The goodie bag/packges of multiple cuts for our own preparation. A top ten culinary experience? Absolutely!

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to swoon for macarons

Having a sweet tooth my entire life leads me to be curious about the popularity of any new confection or baked good. A few years ago, it was the insurgence of the cupcake. However, over the past 12 months, my eyes have continually fallen upon the petite, brightly colored, circular meringue with a soft crunch, slight chew and delightful filling. Perched under the glass dome of many cake stands around town, the elegant French macaron has made a grand revival!

Somewhat resembling a miniature, vibrantly gay sandwich cookie, the two macaron shells are made from combining almond flour with Italian meringue – light as a feather – slowly baked and then delicately spread with a unique filling, that tempts you to try more than just one. The combination of flavors are as endless as one’s imagination, and their display in any glass case or gift box, makes one's eyes gaze as though looking upon jewels.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I became overcome with temptation and contacted Northlight Baking Co.in Somerville MA for a sampling. The simplicity of ordering online allowed me to choose which macarons I wanted to indulge in. I could have kept it simple, and just ordered the Valentine’s 2 piece box with a red hot and passion fruit macaron, but no, I wanted more. Therefore, a 5 piece box was ordered with my personal selection: a red hot, a passion fruit, a dirty chai, a london fog, and a ginger.

Feeling festive and jump starting the Valentine sweet fest, I immediately went to savour and then devour, the red hot. Being a dark chocoholic and having a childhood obsession of red hots and hot tamales, the immediate gravitation to the red hot macaron was an obvious choice. The rich, cranberry-red shell, piped with an intoxicating dark chocolate ganache, laced with aleppo and cinnamon, won me over immediately. The meringue shells were light and the ganache was richly satisfying – dark chocolate with a red hot, peppery punch – left me with that lingering kick I was looking for.

Next flavor had me chomping at the bit… the dirty chai. With a dusting of cocoa powder, the spicy shells filled with espresso ganache, made my taste buds sing. My two favorite morning flavors combined into one, made me wonder if I could possibly get my daily caffeine fix from this delightful combination.

Visual fascination with the beautiful aqua-blue macaron led me down a road that made me think I was enjoying a high tea in London. Appropriately named – london fog – it was filled with a regal, earl grey ganache with a just a hint of vanilla, that led me to quiet thoughts, as I slowly enjoyed its subtle soft flavors while pondering how much fun I was having sampling my sweet macaron quintet.

But the perky, yellow macaron, of which I was the most unsure about, won my heart. The passion fruit macaron, with it’s sweet, juicy flavored ganache and tropical aroma, made me go WOW this is amazing! No wonder passion fruit is considered one of the most delicious fruits on the planet. I fell in love with this sunny, little macaron that blindsided me with flavor. 

This Valentines day, I’m feeling passionate about a magical, macaron from Northlight Baking Co., the passion fruit macaron. The order is in for my Valentine.

 

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An Afternoon Donut

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Strolling through Manhattan’s west side on a sunny afternoon, you just might find yourself craving a donut. And if you find yourself in such a predicament, there’s only one place to go: The Donut Pub.76420_168163973202563_3140647_nNestled into an unassuming little building on West 14th Street, The Donut Pub was started in 1964 but a former trading floor quote boy. The shop is a vibrant today as it ever was, and offers an impressive array of delicious donuts, muffins, and cookies.5XDZGCAJaq21JExses_N1J2IH9wxjKoY3k2Z8-u_zWs…Supplies of which are sometimes a little depleted after a busy morning. So, we recommend getting their as early as possible, and treating yourself to something fresh and delicious, along with a steaming cup of coffee, along their famous marble countertop. These donuts can only improve your day.yywapk8GT2cGwYHzaOgfAVU5bqFTSInfduibXEM04Lk

 
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Queens: A Taste of the World

Some of the most diverse neighborhoods on the entire planet, Jackson Heights, Woodside, and Elmhurst (all in Queens, NY) are also home to an ever-changing mosaic of immigrant communities, cultures, and cuisines.

On Wednesday, Local Pickins took Jeffery Tastes’ “Queens Tastes of the World” tour and explored this culinary metropolis. In one afternoon, we sampled Filipino, Nepalese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Tibetan, Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian food. Jeff gave us the lay of the land, history both international and hyper-local, and even a little primer on the state of food truck regulation and the black market in street vendor permits (attention fellow food policy nerds!)

Here’s what happened:

We hop on the subway from Brooklyn up to Jackson Heights. Stepping off the 7 train, we meet our tour guide, Jeff, a casually dressed local hailing originally from Long Island. He informs us that we’ll be visiting nine different establishments from different countries, and sampling the food at each.

Our first stop, Fiesta Grill, is a few blocks away in the heart of Little Manila, Woodside. This place has Turo-Turo style dining, a type of Filipino fast food that means “point-point”. From the bubbling vats of curries, meats, and rice, Jeff selected a white curry dish and rice for us.

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It’s Ginataang Langka, a Jackfruit curry, with coconut milk, prawns, and “Long Hot Peppers”, and it’s delicious; sweet and spicy with a well balanced consistency.

Our appetites piqued, we made our way to Dhaulagiri Kitchen, a combination Nepalese café and Roti factory. Here, we sit down to Thali, a platter with various pastes, dried beef, pickled vegetables, peppers and dal, served on a stainless steel circular plate, with a bowl of rice in the middle.

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Jeff tells us this is the most popular way you’ll eat at Nepalese restaurants, and the chef here serves their Thali with whatever dishes they’ve decided to whip up that day. We’d never had Nepalese food before, and found it similar to Indian food, but earthier and saltier. The dried, spiced, sauced beef is incredible.

Jeff tells us that this space began as just as a roti factory supplying the different Himalayan restaurants in the city. Roti is Himalayan style bread, similar to chapatti in Indian cuisine. We bought some paratha roti on the way out for later devouring.

Around the corner, we find Kebabish Pakistani, where we find spicy chicken kebab rolls waiting for us. This place roasts their kebab (ground, spiced meat prepared according to muslim Halal practices) in a clay oven, and the proprietor shows us how they stretch their pita dough over round baking stones before lowering them into an oven to bake.

After this baking demonstration, we take a detour to a Nepalese store/travel agency selling everything from electronics, media, and phone cards to statues, incense and prayer rugs. Here we try dried yak cheese, which looks like muddy cave rocks and has a taste that may take some time to acquire….!

We stop next outside of Café Taj at a brightly colored stall, about the size of a speaker’s podium. We’re here for Jhal Muri, Bangladeshi street food made of rice crisps, mustard oil, and various vegetables and spices. It tastes like spicy and savory breakfast cereal and seems perfect for a late night snack after the bars close.

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For our next detour, Jeff lead us through 74th street, the most famous in Jackson Heights, where Indians-Americans and tourists of all stripes come from all over the northeast for a taste of India. This was a local’s tour, so fittingly we bypassed the famous tourist spots and walk into the only non-Indian storefront on the block. Walking through a cell phone retailer and then through a travel agency to a back room, we find Tibetan Mobile2, a stellar Momo joint. Momo are steamed Tibetan dumplings and perhaps the only Tibetan food that one can eat “on the go.” Jeff took us into the kitchen to watch the chef prepare our next meal.

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While we dipped our Beef Momo in chili sauce and vinegars, Jeff gave us a mini-lecture on the Tibetan Diaspora. According to Jeff, most Tibetans you’ll meet will actually say they are from China, India, or Nepal, because of rampant displacement caused by the Chinese government, which has occupied Tibet since 1950.

Afterwards we tried some butter tea, which is exactly what it sounds like— black tea with butter, milk, spice and sugar. A hearty, salty, filling drink for trekking through the Himalayas.

Our next jaunt brought us into a discernibly different neighborhood. I begin to notice that all the storefronts and billboards suddenly change to Spanish. Jeff brings us to El Guayaquileno Mini Picanteria, an Ecuadorian food truck where we try Quaker, an oatmeal based drink mixed with Passion fruit. It is the sunrise in a cup: smooth, sweet, and tart, with the consistency of a light milkshake. We drain it ravenously and sally forth.

8. We stop at the bottom of the stairs for the 82nd st. 7 train to visit a tamale vendor with an impressive crowd waiting for her blessings. Her sacraments are perfectly cooked, moist tamales (we have ones with Mole sauce and pork filling), sweet hot rice drink and a spiced hot chocolate. Jeff tells us this cart is frequently cited by police for lacking proper permitting and setting up right below the subway exit, but nobody, including us, seems to care.

By this point, we are almost bursting with fullness, but we press ahead!

Our next stop is Las Delicias de Pandebono Colombian, a Colombian bakery known for their specialty Pandebono, a baked cheese pastry. It’s both sweet and cheesy, with a secret ingredient known only to the head baker that I can’t quite put my finger on. It was like eating a sweet and a savory breakfast pastry all at once.

Now we reach Ray’s Famous BBQ, a food tuck known for its Flaming Pork Belly Satay, a Filipino preparation of BBQ on a stick. The pork is tangy, perfectly seared, and tender on the inside.

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Our final stop is at Broadway Bakery, a Peruvian lunch spot representative of the huge influx of Peruvians to Queens at the present moment. Here we partake in Chaufa, a spicy garlic fried rice dish and Emoliente, a flax oil drink with the consistency of egg yolk known to be great for digestion and tasting like a subtle, tart jello.

We can honestly say that we’ve never experienced half as diverse a smorgasbord in a single day as we covered in one afternoon with Jeff. On top of that, the tour barely feels like a tour at all, more like a visit to a fascinating, vibrant neighborhood with a new friend who loves to share his favorite spots to eat. Jeff is full of great conversation, peppering the tour with a mix of international history, local gossip, and urban geography.

To book this tour, or one of his other adventures, visit Jeff’s page atVayable5 or http://iwantmorefood.com/tours/.

 

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little havana – a cuban food adventure!

Off on a trip? Planning which restaurants you want to eat at? That’s usually an easy task with little homework. But here’s a really good foodie tip that nobody thinks of…take a foodie tour! Local Pickins is all about helping you have a food adventure wherever you are and nothing beats walking a unique neighborhood with an experienced food guide, to help you learn a little history and savor some flavors throughout the town. 

A weekend getaway had me recently heading to Miami. It’s hip and hopping with a multitude of restaurants, but I wanted to discover a bit of the culture behind their food scene. Not being that familiar with this bikini clad city, made me decide to sign up for a tour with Miami Culinary Tours to visit “Little Havana.” Grabbing my sidekick for the weekend, Oliver, we headed to meet our group in this famous cultural neighborhood for 2 hours of tastings and historical lore. Gathered outside of an art gallery, the troop assembled and was comprised of 3 couples escaping the rug rats left behind in Connecticut, a  local Floridian couple, two young Harvard Business School students – one of which who was participating in a triathlon the next day – and a lone ranger from Austria, who spoke minimal English. Not that it mattered, since we were strolling the main drag of Little Havana!

Our leader was Stephen, looking the part of a tour guide in sunny Florida, with his casual walking attire and straw fedora perched upon his head. This man knew his stuff and had us entertained and engaged from the beginning. First fact before wandering down Calle Ocho – Little Havana was originally settled as a Jewish neighborhood – did not know that – but become the home of many Cuban immigrants during the 60’s, therefore became nicknamed “ Little Havana” after Havana , the capital and largest city of Cuba.

I could share with you all of the numerous facts regarding the Art Deco buildings, chimneys made of coral, the rather large wooden rooster sporting a flag of it’s native heritage – Cuba, and the very impressive, hand-rolled cigars from the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co. with it’s life size carved wooden Indian and it’s faithful companion and owner Pedro Bello poised outside. Note to cigar loving people – smoke a cigar like how you would drink a fine wine, and the longer the cigar, the longer the smoke. But we are food people so I will move on!

First stop, El Pub restaurant, where we were seated at a long table and then served a perfectly fried empanada encasing it’s delightfully moist combination of ground beef, olives, sweet peppers, onions, and garlic with a little cumin and bay leaf for spice. After we politely passed the platter of these palm size Cuban fritters, the consensus was that they were amazingly good, and everyone was looking for another. But hold on – pace yourself people – another Cuban delight was arriving momentarily, a “tostone.” Curious as to what a “tostone” was, Stephen described in complete details for the table what goes into the making – a fried green plantain, shaped over a coffee cup then filled with a mixture of chicken, olive oil, coconut milk and similar spices to the empanada. I was already full and yet this was the first stop on this culinary tour!

Thinking what, no Cuban sandwich? Of course we had a Cuban sandwich! Next sharing table at Exquisito Restaurant had us in the back room enjoying a traditional Cuban sandwich made with thinly sliced ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. But what made this a standout was the “medianoche” bread, light and more like challah bread, while perfectly grilled with all ingredients tucked inside. Not to forget the crispy fried plantain chips served alongside, which are not any healthier than potato chips, although this one wishes they were!

Craving something sweet, Stephen led us right to Yisell Bakery for a pastelito sampling, although we did make a pit stop at “Domino Park.” Wow, is that a unique cultural happening. Ladies and men, all ages, sizes and shapes, some even blind, gathered to play dominos and damn serious about it. But can’t get side tracked for too long, back to the Cuban food extravaganza. 

Best description of a pastelito? Think fluffy, puff pastry with a delicious filling inside. Ours happened to remind me of flattened, rectangular guava jelly doughnut. Buttery, layered dough, sweet and absolutely delicious! What about Cubano coffee? Oh don’t worry, we tried a sampling of  Yisell’s finest.  While Stephen watched us gobbling down our pastelitos, he came around passing a tray with teeny-tiny plastic cups for our shot of Cuban coffee, espresso that had been pre-sweetened with demerara sugar. This was the jolt we all needed to keep going, since our satisfied full bellies were slowing us down. 

The ‘Little Havana” food tour is the tour that keeps on filling! Next stop – Los Piñarenos Fruteria – with the largest, green avocados, I have ever seen! But that was not the main attraction here. Our agenda was a tasting of guarapo – icey sugar cane juice. Sugar cane is peeled, then put through a machine that presses and crushes the raw sugar cane into juice, to which is then added a bit of lime juice, then poured over ice before served. Do not think of freshly squeezed lemonade or limeade, it is nothing like that. This typically Cuban drink was refreshingly sweet with a mildly fresh herbaceous/grass type flavor.

Since all great things do come to an end, our dynamically engaging leader announced that the “Little Havana” food tour was only missing one more component, dessert! A food item that everyone searches in any neighborhood, in any town, and even more so in warmer climates – ice cream! All tour participants happily crossed the road to arrive at Azucar Ice Cream Company. A stylish ice cream and sorbet shop, offering a selection of delicious tropical flavors inspired by the owner’s abuela. (grandmother). Which to chose was the dilemma, the Mamey, based on the fruit with the same name, or something with a Cuban spin to it. I settled on the Mulatica, cinnamon ice cream with bits of oatmeal raisin cookies.  My sidekick? He went with the Café con leche – Cuban coffee with oreos – and was not disappointed! 

Moral of this blog…traveling is always an adventure, and making it a food adventure, may lead to a tad more exercising upon one’s return home… but totally worth it!

 

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A Late Summer Meal at Saltbox Farm

Drive north out of Boston on Route 2, and you will eventually reach the refreshing, green-tinted water of Walden Pond, and the heavily wooded town of Concord, MA. Some might say that, for such a small town, Concord has more than its fair share of attractions: the aforementioned celebrity pond, a shady and rambling graveyard filled with the bones of several of the most well-regarded Transcendentalists, the occasional Redcoat wandering the streets in search of a reviving sticky-bun, having exhaustingly starred in a Battle of Lexington and Concord re-enactment that morning. If you ask a Concord native, they may mention some of the town’s more subtle gems – the vintage beauty of the Old North Bridge, for instance, the charm of the old Alcott house, or the beautiful gardens at the Faulkner estate. However, not everything in the town of Concord is older than Mark Twain’s first manuscript.

__jPlk_Nf2DqwYi-XAoZi0BJXJOFqJ26Tf_wJ3_QHiwIn fact, If you deliberately avoid quaint downtown Concord with a well-placed left-hand turn, you may be lucky enough to find yourself at one of the town’s newer editions, the exceedingly lovelySaltbox Farm. A mere two years ago, the fields that now house Saltbox Farm’s diverse organic vegetable crops, bee hives, free-ranging chickens, and fleecy sheep were nothing more than ordinary green grass fields, often rented out by neighboring horse farmers as pasture space. Likewise, the beautiful wooden structure that now houses the Farm’s beautifully designed kitchen area and cooking classes space, made unusual by the collection of enormous brass church bells that occupy its backyard, was an ordinary (well, aside from the bells) family home.

Local Pickins visited Saltbox farm on a beautiful mid-August morning, excited to cook with vegetables freshly harvested from Saltbox’s plots and kitchen garden – the very definition of local pickins. We were greeted by the charming Aran, Saltbox’s resident cooking instructor and catering contributor, with a plate of petite lamb meatballs, delicate cheese puffs and an overview of the morning’s activities. First, we would head to the vegetable fields to pluck the best looking edibles right out from the ground. Then, we would return to the cool and pine-y kitchen for a lesson in making a meal out of little more than these veggies and a few other kitchen staples. Finally, we would trade in our aprons for napkins, and dine on our creations.

adsCuXQCRYJiUI8CE-UfRwSiQZmt4wx4KuLE177Vrk0Satiated by Aran’s hors d’oervs, we headed out to meet and plunder the late-summer vegetable crops. Saltbox’s vegetable fields are so lovely and fit so naturally into the slope of the lawn that it’s hard to believe they’re only a few years old. The braying of horses in the distance and a sprinkling of wooden beehives added to the classic farm vibe, as did the baseball-capped farmer who enthusiastically taught us to harvest kale and (perhaps even more enthusiastically) showed off the hops he had just planted in hopes of taking on some home brewing.He seemed happy for a small distraction from the day’s main task: preparation for the next day’s CSA pick-up, which meant lots of bundling of carrots and swiss chard.

We filled our baskets with kale, radishes, tomatoes, chard, carrots, basil and eggplant, plus a bunch of peaches from a nearby tree. Before heading back to the cool of the kitchen, Aran also introduced us to the farm’s small flock of sheep, who seemed almost obscenely relaxed and content as they grazed about their pasture.

xZw47F68pefJEYoXwQTLeRjcHnIdW7laUK5ZURuEgosBack in the kitchen, we ate a few more hors d’oeuvre’s and then commenced upon what turned out to be one of the most wonderful cooking experiences we’d ever had with Aran. Good chefs are often compared to good conductors, and in this case the comparison is especially apt. Aran wove together sound instruction with timely task completion and regular progress with a sense of relaxation, all the while maintaining a sense of magic and excitement. Each new cooking lesson learned seemed like a miraculous trick, each set of dish preparations completed like a true accomplishment, and each fresh ingredient used like an exciting gem.

DIzulyeTw8PmNSgexidnYpzrWdviIWlhZjAl2SK3LZESomehow, we managed to prepare grill-tinged scored eggplant, a raw salad kale salad with anchovie-yogurt vinaigrette, a tart kale pesto to serve over pillow-like ricotta gnudi, and sour cream biscuits to be served with the beautiful fresh peaches for desert, all in little more than an hours time.

Th13ALdX58yRd9CeAEIgwRFrRUYAlGAXuG88PPz9Gf0Best of all, we all felt like professionals after the lesson was over, pleased with ourselves for having rolled gnudi and massaged yogurt dressing into kale so expertly.

BUbC9TKvOPqzsWTpTAnqeAtVFCaS5l90dvpT_U_uC6YWhen it was time to tuck in to the delicious meal we had just prepared, we were all feeling relaxed, happy, and accomplished, a perfect pre-lunch mood. To add to the seamless magic of the whole affair, Aran had also created gluten-free versions of everything that we’d cooked that day, so that our gluten-free staff member could enjoy the meal too. A truly impressive cooking class.

vTkVWlkdjWE_Op_QmX126IGyAbG8Kwi9uEZZTrLi148Although perhaps at this point it need barely be said, the meal that resulted from our wonderful day at Saltbox Farm was almost transcendently delicious. From the raw kale salad start, which was spicy, decadent, and amazingly fresh tasting, to the cloudlike gnudi and not overly saccharine peachy desert, we were more than satisfied. Saltbox Farm is the kind of place you leave with the strange sensation that all is right with the world. How they do it, exactly, we’re still not quite sure.

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Food Truck Fridays: Pennypackers

 

At Local Pickins, we’re always excited about enjoying a bite out at a local food truck. Recently, we visited the Pennypackers truck in South Boston, at its unique location in the Seaport area of Boston, at the corner of Tide Street and Northern Avenue down near the Design Center. This area is essentially void of unique dining experiences, so Pennypackers has a monopoly on the lunch crowd. Their truck is parked off the road on a perfect section of payment that has a few park benches, allowing one to sit down to wait for one’s order and to enjoy one’s meal.

Pennypackers is known for their porchetta sandwich, and this delicious prospect had us hungry as we headed to Boston on a misty Friday morning. Due to the dreary weather conditions, we were some of the only customers in line for lunch, and Pennypacker’s variety of warm soup options caught our eye. We briefly considered ordering the delicious sounding Celery Root and Apple Soup or the more traditional Tomato and Basil, but the lure of two particular sandwiches led us in the direction of more substantial sustinence.

The vegetarian picker ordered the Taleggio, a delightful sandwich composed of Taleggio cheese, roasted grapes (we didn’t know that one could roast grapes!), olives, red onion and fresh greens. Each bite was better than the last and the combination of flavors managed to be both comforting and refreshing. The creamy cheese brought together the sometimes, bitter flavor of the briny olives with the soft honeyed grapes, and the amazingly fresh ciabatta bread was the crowing glory on what proved to be a wonderful and unusual sandwich.

The meat loving picker ordered the famous Porchetta sandwich. Full disclosure: we were blown away, and we just might have fallen completely in love with this sandwich. Imagine slices of pork shoulder, rolled in a herb mixture of garlic, crushed juniper berries, rosemary and fennel, then wrapped in pork belly and slow roasted, covered in a small blanket of fresh arugula sprinkled with a tad of lemon juice. Each bite contained both crisp pork belly and flavorful moist pork, as well as the thin blanket of herb mash. This sandwich a masterpiece!

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Fresh Fruit Fridays: Raspberry Pickin’ at Wright-Locke Farm

I haven’t been raspberry picking since I was a child. So when the Local Pickins team proposed heading out to Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester MA to check out the raspberry fields, sweet memories of picking at a neighbor’s stand of canes came flooding back. Is there anything better than snacking on fresh from the patch, sun-warmed berries?

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Getting into the charm of it all, we came with baskets over our arms, only to find that the farm offers a much better option. Our baskets got set aside in favor of the farms’ blue pails, each enhanced with a rope to wear over your neck, which enables two-handed picking!

Wright-Locke Farm is a community farm with origins dating back 300 years. Now run as a conservancy, the farm plays many roles in the community, from connecting folks with locally grown foods and preserving historic buildings and open space, to providing educational programming for all ages, and offering a gorgeous setting for private parties. The farm also raises raspberries, vegetables, chickens and fresh eggs and is certified organic. They sell their produce at area farmers markets, including the Winchester Farmers’ Market, the Lexington Farmers’ Market and Melrose Farmers’ Market.

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Many of the farm’s buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps the most intriguing is the Squash House, a sprawling structure with a large chimney – an unusual feature for a barn.  In the past, farmers used the heated barn for over-winter storage of Blue Hubbard squash. These giant squashes, which can grow to weigh 50 lbs, were coveted for their sweet golden flesh, which makes delicious pies and soups. In the 1900s, Blue Hubbard squash sold for pennies a pound in the fall at Quincy Market. Come late winter, most of Blue Hubbards were just a sweet memory, and the Locke family then brought their stored squashes to market and charged a high premium.

Picking

Before hitting the fields, we got some quick tips about picking: the reddest fruits are the sweetest, and ideally the ripe berry should slide off the white receptacle with ease. (A raspberry is hollow inside, blackberries are solid. For more on the differences click here.) An overly-ripe berry will stain the receptacle with juice. We also learned that many raspberry patches are under attack from an aggressive fruit fly – Spotted Wing Drosophila – that is new to the Northeast region. The fly, which is harmless to humans, can ruin a crop, causing the delicate fruit to rot more quickly. As a preventative measure, we were given a second bucket – this one green – and were encouraged to fill it with any overripe fruit as a means of thwarting this fly. As a reward for helping to protect the crops with this extra bit of picking, we would get to feed the chickens the overripe berries.

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On our way out to the fields, an excited young picker shared with us his bounty of berries!

We quickly fell into an easy rhythm of picking and chatting. We had an impromptu team meeting over the bushes, catching one another up on our action items, while our blue buckets began to fill. Sampling a few berries in the fields, our lips and fingers quickly staining red. We were conscientious pickers, and did a good job filling up the green buckets, helping the farmers combat the fruit fly as best we could.

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Once our blue buckets were nearly full, we connected with Archie McIntyre, the farm’s executive director, who was manning the weigh station. Archie suggested freezing some of our berries, and his preferred method is to spread the berries in a single layer on parchment paper on a lipped cookie sheet and freeze for a few hours. Then make up a few portion-size, air-tight bags of the frozen berries for use in winter pancakes and muffins.

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With our berries weighed and our baskets full, we took the overripe buckets over to the moveable coop. A bevy of happy birds jostled and clucked – like us – delighted to gobble down the sweet treats.

At home I went to work with my berries, freezing some, and baking up a tart with peaches from a friend’s orchard. I posted a pickin on our Local Pickins app of my beautiful creation…Cane to Crostata… Yum!

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Decadence at the Northwest Chocolate Festival

One recent rainy weekend in Seattle, Local Pickins headed indoors to the 5th Annual Northwest Chocolate Festival to sample specialty artisan chocolate and pick up some culinary tips from award-winning pastry chefs and chocolatiers. The festival showcased the most popular chocolate makers in Seattle, such as Theo Chocolate,ChocolopolisForté ChocolatesFran’s Chocolates, and George Paul Chocolates.

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George Paul’s hand-crafted 58% dark chocolate with peppermint is perfect for the holidays. These delicious caramels from Fran’s Chocolates are sold in beautiful gift boxes. Theo offered samples of all their classic organic chocolate bars, including this rich and tropical 70% dark chocolate coconut. Forte’s white chocolate cloud was some of the best white chocolate I’ve tasted in a long time.

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It was exciting to discover new chocolate makers from the northwest and across the country. The family-operated Arrowhead Chocolates from Joseph, Oregon offered samples of their specialty caramels.

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Karen Neugebauer of Forte Chocolate and winner of the Artisan of the Year Award debuted Gusto, her new line of savory chocolates. My favorite was the Rosemary Sea Salt, a blend of organic rosemary and sea salt from the coast of Portugal and their signature white chocolate.

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I loved the Preserved Meyer Lemon Caramel Sauce from Hotcakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle. Can’t wait to try this drizzled on one of their molten chocolate cakes. Happy hour, anyone?

One of the most interesting flavors of the weekend was the coconut wasabi truffle from Bellingham-based Evolve. Coconut, wasabi, dark chocolate, and sesame all in one bite!

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People packed around bean-to-bar maker Madre Chocolate, an award-winning chocolate maker from Hawaii. They use lightly processed cacao beans from organic farms in Central America and Hawaii, flavored with traditional ingredients from the tribes that invented chocolate. I made sure not to leave without a bar of their rich and creamy coconut milk and caramelized ginger dark chocolate.

Another highlight of the festival was the stone ground chocolate from Taza Chocolate made by hand at their factory in Somerville, Massachusetts. Using authentic Oaxacan stone mills to minimally process the cacao beans creates a textured chocolate with bits of cacao and cane sugar. My favorite was the 70% dark chocolate salt and pepper disc.

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Between bites of rich organic chocolate, I attended a culinary demonstration for Scharffen Bergen chocolate soufflés with cocoa bean cream by Alice Medrich, pastry chef and foremost expert on chocolate desserts. She provided helpful tips on baking with chocolate (stainless steel bowls-yes, double broilers-no) and even made a beginner like me feel compelled to try this at home. While the soufflés were baking, she even snuck in a recipe for olive oil truffles for the audience to sample. Delicious!

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After a weekend of decadence, I headed home with a bag of artisan chocolate and a new appreciation for the origins and processing of chocolate from around the world. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival, but until then, Thursday happy hour atChocolopolis will have to do.

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Marczyk Fine Foods Does Deli Right

With culinary behemoths like Steuben’s and Watercourse dishing up the city’s best eats on a daily basis, Denver’s uptown strip of 17th Avenue between Park Avenue and Broadway is not an easy neighborhood for just any grocer to call home.

But Marczyk Fine Foods—with its carefully curated shelves of artisanal products, and its commitment to providing Denverites with quality meat—has made itself a neighborhood staple for all things specialty: from wines to meats to cheeses.

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Quality meat is where Marczyk really shines though. According to its Web site, the grocer is the only store in Colorado to carry all-natural, humane and sustainable Niman Ranch products exclusively.

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The Marczyk Roast Beef from the store’s deli is also a neighborhood favorite. Between two layers of Jewish rye fresh from the in-house bakery sits a hunk of beautiful, Niman Ranch beef that is also roasted on-site. The classic deli-style sandwich is topped with arugula and rounded out with a market-made horseradish mayo.

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On the day I visited, an employee behind the vast deli counter added that customers appreciate not only the fresh taste of Marczyk’s luncheon meats but the fact that the roast beef is nitrate-free, as are most meats sold in the store. Sodium nitrate is a preservative added to some processed lunchmeats, and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

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Locals also gravitate towards the breads baked daily in-house that range from simple baguettes to fun varieties like cheddar jalapeno.

And if something’s not made on the premises, it’s likely sourced from a local vendor selling the best of both sweet and savory along the Front Range. Marczyk even compiled a comprehensive list of its favorite vendors to buy from in Colorado that I have not seen matched by other area grocers.

In a city like Denver where celebrity eateries are rare—save for maybe Justin Timberlake’s Southern Hospitality—Marczyk has lured even rock legends like David Byrne to enjoy its bounty of wine, salad, and fresh peaches post-soundcheck.

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