This is a story of family and food and love. My father’s mother, my grandma Julia, had five sisters; my great aunts Jenny, Anna, Helen, Mimi, and Lulu. My Dad learned to cook, bake and preserve from the wonderful women in his family and from my grandfather, who was a butcher.
As a very young girl, I spent the early mornings while my mom and brother slept, with my daddy. In this quiet time he shared the secrets of the kitchen; separating eggs, mixing the lightest batter, transforming ordinary berries into glistening preserves and syrups, or stuffing a sausage and corning a beef brisket. I was enchanted and have never wanted to leave this magical world.
Dad told me that my Aunt Jenny taught herself to make pickles because my Uncle Bill hated garlic and all of the pickles at the market had garlic. Also Jenny made an amazing spread that everyone loved from simple ingredients of dried and canned fruit.
At some point years later we noticed that Dad’s hand began to shake. I remember the awful day when my mom and dad told me that dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We all spoke of treatments and how we were sure that it would all be OK. However over time this cruel disease robbed dad of his joys of working in my parents antique business, roller blading, photography, and cooking.
As dad’s health declined, we spent a lot of time talking about family stories and recipes. There was something very calming and familiar for him to talk about things like his mother’s huckleberry pie (it was so good that it made him come home early from vacation when he heard she was baking one) and my Aunt Jenny’s delicious apricot and pineapple jam. When I asked him for the recipe for the jam he was not sure how to make it but said he would know it when he tasted it.
Experimentation and tidbits of information; “they must be California sun dried apricots” he remembered her saying, helped us recreate the recipe. I made a few jars and dad took one bite and declared it a success. We recruited my cousins, Aunt Jenny’s children as taste testers and got a rousing approval.
My Dad, Sidney Cohen, was taken from us a little over a year ago and I miss him terribly. He was not the sort for a big fuss and would not have liked any kind of grand celebration or some award done in his name but I wanted honor his memory.
We have made a special vintage recipe version of our Aunt Jenny’s Jam for sale online and at our markets. I will be contributing 10% of the total sales for this jam for the rest of the year to Parkinson’s research. I hope this bright sunny spread will be a delight for my family to share with yours and the money raised with help in some small part to reduce suffering and lead to a cure.
Purchase Aunt Jenny’s Jam
I admit that I am completely addicted to food television; every chef contest from honoring the best to teaching (and laughing at) the worst captures my attention. I watch as chefs and foodies discover and judge the greatest dishes, drinks, food trucks, and hidden dining treasures. Lest you think I am only a competition spectator, a few months back I entered the American Lamb Pro-Am and teamed up with Chef Michael Scelfo of Russell House Tavern to win first prize!
Imagine how excited I was when the The American Lamb Board and BostonChefs.com invited me to be a judge for the Boston “leg” of the Lamb Jam tour. The contest was held February 19, 2012 at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, MA. Eighteen chefs competed and the judging panel tasted all eighteen dishes comparing factors such as flavor, presentation, and originality. We also sipped some wine, beer, snapped photos, laughed, and argued over mystery spices and the perfect level of salt in a dish. There was a lot of food and it was interesting how some of the judges deconstructed each morsel and others just ate it all.
In the end we pushed through some hot debates and winners were chosen. In addition to the winning dishes which I will detail in a moment there were two stellar bites for me; a lamb and pasta dish and a lamb donut!
Chef Tyson Podolski of Summer Winter Burlington, MA brought a Chiang Mia Braised Lamb with Winter Squash Cavatelli, Mint & Cilantro and their table was decorated with a flat of greens from their on-site greenhouse. The lamb in the dish was tender and well seasoned but the cavatelli was the main attraction. Perfectly cooked with a hint of sweetness and a sauce that was creamy but with light lemony and green notes. I hope this cavatelli will show up on their menu this spring.
The other standout dish for me was the Smoked Bone Marrow Beignet made by Toby Hill of Pain D’Avingnon the charming bakery and bistro on Cape Cod. This donut had a perfect light cake crumb and managed to be both airy and very rich. The beignet was filled with melting soft lamb shank and a blood orange mostarda along with Vermont Shepard cheese. Some of the judges found the orange filling too sweet but I loved the way this dish could almost be called a lamb dessert while remaining balanced and focused on the flavor of the meat.
And now for the winners!
There were several meatball dishes in the competition but Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn combined kale with the lamb shoulder to make the most delicate and satisfying little bite. He surrounded it with a swirl of smoked tomato puree and finished the dish with crispy parmesan crustade. By the time this dish came out, served in a cute mini covered cassarole dish, we were well into the tasting. Our judging panel had eaten quite a bit of food. It was all many of us could do not to eat every scrap of this dish rather than just taste (a few could not resist). I am hoping this will be on their menu which by itself would make it well worth a visit to this historic inn.
Each category had a winner as well. Chef Michael Scelfo of Russell House Tavern was the shank category winner with a small bite that nearly exploded with flavor. The braised lamb shank terrine was served on a round of caraway brioche with horseradish and lamb bacon.
The winner of the leg category was Chef Brian Reyelt of Citizen with a lamb leg and bone marrow polpettone with bourbon cherries served in a bone. This dish was fun to eat and generated an amazing amount of buzz for looks alone but the rich and sophisticated taste showed more than just clever packaging.
Chef Matt Jennings of La Laiterie won the loin category with a Korean Lamb Reuben with red miso cured lamb served on a semolina and lamb fat roll. I could have eaten a whole plate of that lamb and the bun was fluffy and filled with flavor.
Finally the people’s choice award went to Chef Cassie Piuma of Oleana for her Lebanese Style Lamb Crepe with harra sauce, crushed walnuts, cucumber, and pomegranate. This was a beautiful dish that blended fresh and exotic flavors folded into a delicate crepe.
The event also featured craft beers from local breweries, wine from J. Lohr vineyars cheese from Cabot, and adorable cartoon-like lamb cookies from Harvard Sweet Boutique. These were so cute I could hardly bring myself to eat one. Luckily they also had delicious caramels to munch on too and yes I ate some even after sampling 18 amazing lamb dishes. Hey, I am always ready to take one for the team-as long as it is tasty!
I was surprised to find that Joanne Chang’s Flour Cookbook http://flourbakery.com/ has a recipe for Vegan Low Fat Chocolate Cake. I expected to try out some of her delicious rich deserts that I have sampled at the bakery but instead I baked a treat for my hubby, Mark. Mark lives in a house where the heady scent of butter partners with melted chocolate, sweet fruit, and vanilla to dance an ongoing tango around our kitchen. This would not be a problem for most people but Mark is working hard to maintain a restrictive low-fat diet for health reasons.
Until now creating a real devil’s food cake for him without artificial goop seemed impossible. It is not! This cake was simple to make and is full of chocolate and coffee flavor. The texture was dense, moist, and crumbly and reminded Mark of his favorite childhood snack cake. Thanks Joanne for including this recipe in your cookbook. It is a winner in this house.
Note: picture above shows the cake with powdered sugar and candied cranberries sprinkled on top