A Conversation with the Author of ‘Long Island Food’

An interview with Ketchum’s own Tom Barritt, Managing Director of the Communications Training Network and author of Long Island Food: A History From Family Farms & Oysters to Craft Spirits. Published by History Press, the book is part of their series, American Palate, which seeks out hometown writers to chronicle their local food culture.

Available for purchase at Amazon.com

Available for purchase at Amazon.com

Tom Barritt was not setting out to write an academic history of the food of Long Island, New York. Rather, the journey was a suburban boy’s search for his hometown food culture. Long Island Food provides a fascinating account of one of the nation’s most diverse, and perhaps least understood culinary regions. Tom hopes that his stories of local pioneers and modern day food artisans will offer a unique, single narrative of Long Island’s culinary past, present and future.

Tom grew up in the 1960’s on meatloaf and TV dinners, not realizing the edible delights hiding just off the Long Island Expressway. While his friends raved about niche areas like Napa and the Hudson Valley, Tom explored close to home and after many weekends researching and talking to locals, he began to discover the deep history of the region and learned that the food culture of today is very much rooted in the past. Throughout, he found that at the heart of Long Island food were stories about people.

“If you just write about ingredients, you’ll find something is missing. You need the personal element,” Tom said. “Food tells us a lot about traditions, but there is always a person at the heart of a food story bringing it all together.”

Exploring the Agricultural and Seafood Bounty

Farming and seafood were two major sources of food that sustained Native Americans and European settlers and still remain an integral part of Long Island’s food culture today. Tom focused on stories of individuals advancing Long Island’s food traditions in new ways. The Terry family has cultivated land on Orient Point at the tip of Long Island’s North Fork since the 1600s. But, in recent years, they found that their business model of wholesale produce was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. They decided to take their produce directly to the public and started a network of more than 15 farmers markets on Long Island, none of which had existed before. The Terry family changed the way Long Islanders shop for produce and revitalized their historic family farm.

Barritt photo_farm market

Tom also investigated the Long Island oyster industry which harkens back to 1900 and was one of the most prominent oyster centers in the world. As is often seen in the fishing industry, the waters were overfished and the supply depleted. The industry went through significant decline. The Blue Island Oyster Company is an example of a business that is revitalizing oyster production in the Great South Bay.

Wine and Spirits

It’s only in the past couple of decades that Long Island has become known for fine wines. While a new sector for the region – now represented by dozens of wineries – it is built on Long Island’s early family farming foundations. Long Island’s very first winery was started 40 years ago by a couple interested in cultivating European-style grapes. Hargrave Vineyards was simply a farm supporting a single family, started on the site of an old potato field. The family had no idea their personal passion for wine would pave the way for the burgeoning wine industry that exists today. Now, diverse vintners and distillers have flocked to the region. There is a sparkling wine house on the East End. The company, Long Island Spirits distills vodka from the iconic Long Island potato and also produces Rough Rider Bourbon, a local product named in honor of Long Island resident, Teddy Roosevelt.

 

Image featuring Rough Rider Bourbon from The Winebow Group

Image featuring Rough Rider Bourbon from The Winebow Group

Tom said Long Island’s modern artisans are advancing the food history of the region through their passion and enthusiasm. “There is a real personal imprint food artisans are putting on their product today that reflects where Long Island has been in the past but also where it may go in the future.”

 

Long Island Food was published by History Press and is on sale on September 14, 2015. It is part of their series, American Palate, which seeks locals to write about native food culture. Tom was discovered by the publishing company through his blog, Culinary Types. Culinary Types is a food blog Tom started nine years ago. He will be speaking about Long Island food at local venues throughout autumn, including a speaking event at the Suffolk County Historical Society, on October 24.

Declaring Winter is Over with Spring Cakes

IMG_4173If you lived through New York City this winter, it’s safe to say your heart may have sunk when spring rolled in with yet another snow fall followed by weeks of cold damp.It’s not that snow isn’t a beautiful marvel of Mother Nature. It is. Just not after a terribly slushy, sleet-filled winter.

So to Mother Nature, I offer you one spring-inspired coconut cake. Having worked at a bakery all through high school, switching out our cake cases became a hallmark of the change in seasons. Harvest-filled flavors transformed into vibrant, bright-flavored desserts.

Plucked by my dad from a leisurely Sunday read of the New York Times, this coconut layer cake has definitely become an Easter tradition in my family. Though it can be made anytime, I can’t help but think of warmer, pastel-filled climates when indulging. If you are in the New York City area, you can sample the cake yourself on the lunch menu at the well-known restaurant Telepan on the Upper West Side. And while this is a great option for those who are not culinary-inclined, it doesn’t allow for the opportunity to toast your own coconut flakes and make them “snow” onto a velvety landscape of cream cheese frosting. That beats real snow to me, any day!

Adapted from Larissa Raphael, Telepan, New York

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 sticks/226 grams unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups/265 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 1/2 teaspoon/3 grams fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons/10 grams baking powder
  • 3/4 cup/140 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated, plus 3 whites
  • 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters cream of coconut
  • 1 1/4 cups/295 milliliters unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons/30 milliliters coconut or dark rum
  • 7 tablespoons/104 milliliters freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 cups/370 grams unsweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks/226 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups/454 grams cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract
  • 7 1/4 cups/2 pounds/907 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups/340 grams unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut, toasted

Preparation

Make the cake:

  1. Grease 3 8-inch cake pans and dust with flour. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and reserve. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add 3 egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl with spatula. Lower speed and gradually add flour mixture. Batter will be thick and pasty.
  3. Whisk together cream of coconut, coconut milk, rum and orange juice.
    Alternately add shredded coconut and the orange juice mixture to the batter.
  4. In the clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip 6 egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Cool
    in pans on wire rack. Unmold cakes once cool.

Make the frosting:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla extract. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix until combined and fluffy.
  2. Spread 1/4-inch-thick layer of frosting on top of the first layer of cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Place next cake layer on top and repeat with frosting and coconut. Repeat with the third layer, spreading frosting on top and around sides of cake. Hold cake steadily in one hand and use other hand to pat remaining coconut onto edges of cake.

Plated — A Culinary Savior for Busy Urbanites?

In today’s world – a world where Google delivery drones are an impending reality – it’s not hard to imagine an on-demand ingredient delivery service. In fact, as we near the end of 2014 – a plethora of services exist. Blue Apron, Meez Meals and Hello Fresh, just to name a few. I chose to try one called Plated, after being referred to the service by a friend.

Yes, I made this on a crazy busy weeknight!

Yes, I made this on a crazy busy weeknight!

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Open Air Breakfasts

Biscuits ‘n gravy has never been one of my breakfast staples. I recently had the occasion to taste a pretty amazing version outdoors, under a stormy, cloudy sky. It might have been the location and timing of that particular breakfast, but I am pretty sure I would go back for third helpings of this dish anywhere.

Ready to paddle the distance of Boston to Washington, D.C. using just these two arms and my legs.

Ready to paddle the distance of Boston to Washington, D.C. using just these two old arms.

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Home Is Where the Coney Is

Lake Michigan’s coastline from 30,000 feet

Lake Michigan’s coastline from 30,000 feet

Great Lakes. Tigers (the baseball playing kind). “Up North.” Lemonade. Ice cream. Coney dogs.

This eclectic group of pastimes and food cravings describe summertime in Michigan, my home state. And I remembered just what makes summer so summery (besides steamy Midwest temps) in the Great Lake state during a recent visit home to celebrate my nieces Abbey’s and Allie’s graduations.

As my older niece Allie wrapped up her high school career, the primo food event that week centered on her graduation open house – when family and her parents’/grandparents’ friends would embarrassingly (but lovingly) reminisce about “how fast she’d grown up.” And memories and food go hand-in-hand.

Months ago, Allie landed on her open house theme: summer picnic. Daisies and a summer picnic. Let the picnicking begin …

Lemonade + Iced Tea

Every summer picnic’s favorite refreshing combo – as good apart as they are together. A Michigander enjoys an “Arnold Palmer” as much as the next guy.

Who doesn't love a pitcher of Arnold Palmer?

Who doesn’t love a pitcher of Arnold Palmer?

Summer Salad

Michigan builds cars. But did you know we also build a killer salad bar? A real Michigan salad never leaves off dried sweet/tart cherries (sometimes cranberries), crumbly blue cheese, crunchy pecans or walnuts and a tangy vinaigrette dressing. Toss in crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, crispy bacon bits – with a side of my mom’s homemade macaroni salad – and you’ve got a picnic salad party.

Fresh Fruit

Traverse City, on the banks of northern Lake Michigan, is one of the world’s cherry capitals. Michigan also happens to grow some of the juiciest, sweetest, bluest blueberries. It’s true. If you’re ever at a Michigan summer picnic without a fruit salad heavy on the blueberries, something has gone wrong.

Essential for a Michigan summer picnic!

Essential for a Michigan summer picnic!

Sweet Daisies

Apple blossoms are Michigan’s official state flower, but daisies are a universal summer thing. This picnic sported white chocolate daisy lollipops from a local candy maker among the daisy desserts.

Daisy desserts are the perfect treat for a summer party

Daisy desserts are the perfect treat for a summer party

Not Just Any Hotdog

Hotdogs … an American summer staple. This open house picnic hotdog spread (my sister’s genius) included recipes & ingredients to tailor your ‘dog: Barbeque Bacon-style, Ballpark-style, Chicago-style. But the ultimate Michigan picnic show stealer is the Coney Island Dog (or “Coney” if you’re a local): grilled beef hotdog, with locally made Coney sauce (all meat), yellow mustard and chopped white onion. And you’ll only make the rookie mistake once of describing a Coney as “just like a chili dog.” Flint Coney? Detroit Coney? Different towns put their unique spin on their Coney secret sauce. Serious sauce business … worthy of its own blog post. (Ask Anthony Bourdain, who just scratched the Coney surface during his ‘Parts Unknown’ Detroit journey.)

Uniquely, deliciously, purely Michigan.

If you find yourself exploring Michigan, just ask where to find a good Coney and directions to “Up North” (which really does exist) … and a friendly Michigander will point you the right way.

Hope Springs Eternal: Celebrating the End of Winter with a Renewed Dedication to Healthy Eating

Despite the fact that the ground is still snow-covered where I live about 30 miles north of New York City, the calendar continues to assure me that spring does indeed start today. And after a miserable winter that pretty much compelled me to live on comfort food for the past several months (simply refer to my last post for evidence of that!), I think many of us are looking to the warmer weather as the impetus to shed a few extra pounds and reintroduce more healthy foods back into our diet. Combine that with the fact that it’s National Nutrition Month and we have too many good reasons to ignore.

My focus for this post is two of my favorite salads. In fact, few things make me happier than the day in mid-May that I plant my annual herb garden of basil, chives, rosemary, parsley and cilantro. It compels me to get creative with different ways that I can use them.

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What gives you comfort during a cold Russian winter? The bliny!

A 12-inch high pile of plain, simple, lighter-than-air pancakes, with a little piece of creamy butter melting on top, making you fantasize about all kind of fillings you could wrap it around like a Mexican tortilla – that’s a classical form of bliny (by the way, “bliny” is correct plural from “blin”) in Russian culture.

A stack of light-as-air bliny. Source: Vadim Trablin, Russian food blogger (http://trablin.livejournal.com)

A stack of light-as-air bliny. Source: Vadim Trablin, Russian food blogger (http://trablin.livejournal.com)

Bliny is one of the ancient Slavic (Slavs are the Russians’ ancestors) ceremonial dishes that became an important part of Russian cuisine with the ritual of Maslenitsa – a week in the end of February when people say goodbye to the winter.

Source: Wikipedia.

“Winter Fun” by Fedot Sychkov. Source: Wikipedia.

By their form, classical Russian bliny differ from what many call “blinis” abroad, which are really finger-thick round and puffy pancakes. For that form Russians have another word – “oladyi.” Russian bliny pancakes are close to French crepes: thin, fragile and foldable.

There are as many recipes of bliny as there are comestible liquids in the kitchen. People use plain water, milk, kefir (fermented yoghurt-like milk), and even beer as the base for bliny. My favorite recipe is included in this @ppetite post, below.

Rolled bliny with raspberry sauce. Source: Vadim Trablin.

Rolled bliny with raspberry sauce. Source: Vadim Trablin.

Russian Bliny

2 eggs
2 tablespoons (25 g) sugar
2 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (600bg) water
1 1/3 cups (160 g) flour
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil

Beat  the eggs with sugar, till sugar dissolves completely. Add water; stir. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, then add to the liquid base. Stir clockwise till the mixture becomes homogenous. Let mixture rest for an hour. Add the oil, stir clockwise. Bake the bliny on a 22-24 cm pan (the best proportion of bliny batter for that pan is about a half of a soup ladle). Cook batter for one minute then flip and cook for one minute more. (Turning a blin can be tricky at first, but anyone can master it with practice.)

Pile them up to feed the whole family!

You can eat bliny with all kinds of traditional Russian fillings/toppings: sour cream, honey, chopped fried meat and/ormushrooms, salted salmon eggs, any kind of jam and sooo many other salty/sugary imaginable combinations.

Be creative and have fun!

Yo — It’s Super Bowl Time — Let’s Eat Jersey Style

More than 100 million people globally are expected to watch this year’s Super Bowl when the Denver Broncos face off against the Seattle Seahawks.  One of the things I love about the Super Bowl is that it’s much more than a game – it’s an entire event that brings ages and genders together.  This year the game takes place at Metlife Stadium  in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  That’s right, New Jersey, home of Frank Sinatra and Tony Soprano. It’s also known as The Garden State. Go ahead, guffaw. I know not many people outside of New Jersey really believe that New Jersey has some of the best farmland in the country (heck, some don’t believe it has anything other than highways!).  But, stop by any local farmer’s market on your drive down the shore and get yourself some tomatoes, sweet corn, and blueberries. I promise, you’ll be a believer.

A typical New Jersey Shore Farm Stand (Photo source: popoflanigan.com)

A typical New Jersey Shore Farm Stand (Photo source: popoflanigan.com)

By now, you probably gathered that I’m a Jersey girl – and proud of it. (Ok, truth be told, I now reside in New York but you know the saying – you can take the girl out of Jersey….). So, I thought it might be fun to share a few of our classic Jersey meals and show you what my family will be enjoying on game day.

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