Zingerman’s is pretty much the ultimate foodie business. Started as a deli in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1982, it has grown into a gourmet empire that includes a bakery, a restaurant, a cheese- and gelato-making creamery, a coffee roastery, a fancy-foods mail-order store, a small book publisher, a cooking school, a catering business, and a food-business consulting company. Whew!
But the most recent addition to the family is Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory. The company’s apparently been making candy bars since 2002, but only started making them for national sale last September, and I just saw them for the first time at the Birmingham Whole Foods the other day.
Zzang bars are made in small batches, by hand, using old-fashioned techniques. They come in four flavors, but the original most appealed to me: It’s caramel, peanut-butter-and-honey nougat, and butter-roasted (!) peanuts, all covered in dark chocolate. Wow, is this thing fantastic. The slightly bitter chocolate is the perfect foil for the super-sweet interior, the nougat is creamy and soft, with both the peanut butter and honey flavors coming through clearly, and the peanuts add crunch and extra richness, thanks to their having been cooked in butter (actual butter! It’s right there on the ingredient list!)
At $3 per 2 1/2-ounce bar, these things ain’t cheap (though compared to the $7 or so Whole Foods charges for Vosges bars, they’re a freakin’ bargain). But one will satisfy your candy craving for a good week.
Sorry for the just-the-box photo; I kinda devoured the whole thing before I even thought to shoot it.
You wouldn’t know it from reading this blog so far, but Asian food is my favorite kind to cook (and eat, for that matter). I was practically raised on Golden Chef‘s Mongolian beef (they even catered my bar mitzvah), my well-seasoned wok is my most prized kitchen tool, and when I moved to Birmingham, the first thing I looked up was the location of the local Asian markets. (For the record, the best one is Super Oriental Market, in the same building as the Red Pearl restaurant.)
We got a big bag of really tasty snap peas in the CSA a couple weeks ago, and around the same time The Kitchn posted a delicious-sounding recipe that roasts them with Asian flavors. I’ve never roasted snap peas before, but anything that cooks at 475 degrees can’t be bad, and using sesame oil gets it instant bonus points in my book.
It’s a really simple recipe: Toss peas with sesame oil and salt, roast, top with sesame seeds. The peas lose their crunch almost entirely, becoming tender and almost silky, and their sweetness is intensified by caramelization.
Sesame Roasted Snap Peas recipe (The Kitchn)
To pair with this, I wanted to make ma po tofu, a spicy Szechuan dish I’ve been working on perfecting, but Nadria’s gotten tired of my not-so-great experiments. We decided on a stir-fry with peanut sauce instead.
I love peanut sauce, and after years of trying I’ve come up with a reliable and versatile formula for making it. Start with a base of equal parts peanut butter and warm water—this gives you the right thick-but-pourable consistency. Next, add little bits of something sweet, something spicy, something salty, and something sour. (Coincidentally, balancing these four flavors is the central tenet of Thai cuisine.)
The sweet can be plain sugar, but I prefer something with a bit more depth, like brown sugar or molasses, or hoisin sauce works really well too. Sriracha is an obvious choice for the spicy, and you can easily vary the spice level for different applications. The salty ingredient is soy sauce, though hoisin counts if you use it as your sweet ingredient. Sour can be lime juice or rice vinegar.
Stir-fries are always easy and a great way to use up extra stuff in the fridge. Tonight, I used onion, garlic, broccoli, and tofu, plus some soba noodles because we needed a carb.
The noodles soaked up too much of the sauce; next time I put the noodles in a bowl and top with sauced veggies.
They say the simple omelet is the greatest test of a chef’s skill. Usually when I make them, something or other goes wrong; it sticks to the pan, or it cracks when I go to fold it. But this morning, I achieved a brief glimpse of omelet nirvana.
Just look at it:
Now, the McEwen and Sons eggs helped, as did the Benton’s bacon and Yellow Moon cheese inside. But I am very proud of this omelet. (The tri-fold looks so much better than just folding in half, too.)
The most recent selection of the Birmingham Foodie Book Club was David Sax’s Save the Deli, a love letter to delis and Jewish food in general that tours old-school delicatessens all over the country and the world and laments their decline (though the book neglects to include Birmingham’s recently closed Browdy’s and new but very authentic Max’s in its survey of good delis).
Anyway, I’ve had Jewish food on the brain for a little while. Last week, I was preparing a whole chicken for roasting, looked at the pile of fat I had trimmed off, and decided I would partake in my people’s heritage and make a batch of schmaltz.
What lard is to pork, schmaltz is to chicken: pure rendered fat. Kosher dietary laws prohibit the mixing of milk and meat, which means no butter, cream, or cheese with flesh or fowl (oddly enough, fish doesn’t count as meat, but that’s a separate issue). So where’s an observant Jew to turn for rich, fatty flavor? Schmaltz!
We didn’t keep kosher when I was growing up, so schmaltz isn’t really something I’m all that familiar with, and this batch was a first-time experiment for me. But lots of traditional Jewish recipes use it: It’s tasty spread on bread with a little salt, it’s used to saute vegetables for stews and more, and of course it’s in kishke, our version of haggis: matzo meal, schmaltz, and spices stuffed into beef intestine. (I’ve only had kishke once or twice in my life, but I remember really enjoying it.)
The good thing is, schmaltz is really easy to make, and keeps for a long time. Next time you roast a chicken, hold on to that big lump of fat you normally remove and discard before cooking. Chop it up into little pieces, and then cook over low heat until all the fat has rendered out and you’re left with little crunchy brown bits. Strain the fat and store in the fridge (a good-sized chicken yielded about a half cup for me). Then salt and eat the brown bits—they’re called gribenes in Yiddish—Jews have cracklin too!
Some cooks throw some chopped onion in when cooking the chicken fat as well. I’m gonna try this next time; a little oniony flavor sounds like it would match the schmaltz really well.
Schmaltz has a strong chickeny smell, but it tastes very clean, and wonderfully rich. So far, I’ve used it to cook veggies and to fry an egg. It adds the same kind of richness as butter. With my next batch, I plan to try something like a confit. If anyone has some spare beef intestine lying around, I’d love to take a stab at kishke, too. Lemme know.
What should I do with this thing?
This year marks my third as a part of the Snow’s Bend Farm CSA. (CSA stands for “community supported agriculture,” a program in which you pay a flat fee for a share of a farm’s products. Check localharvest.org for CSA options near you.)
I love the fresh, local produce every week, and Snow’s Bend is a beautiful farm with a pair of awesome farmers who are doing everything the right way. Being in a CSA also forces you to try new kinds of produce, and discover new ways of using the stuff you get a lot of. I’m a recent convert to bok choi and kale, mostly because the stuff Snow’s Bend grows is so delicious, and the Swiss chard pie recipe they included in a CSA newsletter is on constant rotation in my kitchen. (I’ll post it soon.)
But I can’t figure out kohlrabi. Every week for the next month or so, I’ll be getting one of these knobbly purple things, and nothing I’ve tried thus far has made me like them. In theory, kohlrabi’s crunchy texture and mild sweetness—somewhere between jicama, turnip, and apple—should make it great in all kinds of dishes. I’ve tried it raw in salads and slaws, and cooked in stir-fries, and every time it’s just been blah. For me, kohlrabi is merely bland crunchiness, and when I want bland crunchiness, I greatly prefer water chestnuts.
So I’m reaching out for your help, foodies of the Internet! Leave your best kohlrabi recipes or techniques in the comments, and I will try them and report back.