More Gifts for Food Lovers

After writing my “Gifts for Food Lovers” list last month, new ideas keep popping into my head. So, here’s part 2, also Rhode Island-centric.

6. Ripe 2008 Calendar – What better way to get big kids to eat their veggies than a calendar full of tasteful nudes? Brown and RISD students pose artfully among local produce, raising money for the Southside Community Land Trust, Farm Fresh Rhode Island and the Brown student garden.

Available through Farm Fresh RI, the Brown Bookstore, and Farmstead.

7. The Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce – If you live in Rhode Island you probably know of, have an opinion about, and maybe have even met Providence’s ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci. He returned to the city this year after a stint in prison, but his pasta sauce has been on store shelves all along. Profits from sauce sales go towards scholarships. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve always wanted to pick up a jar for a gift.

Check out this Chowhound discussion for ideas on where to find it.

8. A teapot and tea from Basically British Tearoom – Besides being a great gift, this is a good excuse to go check out the tearoom’s new digs in Warren’s Cutler Mills. While you’re there, have a pot of tea and a scone with clotted cream (these are the best scones I’ve ever had). If you like the decor, you can bring it home – the tearoom is also an antique store.

http://www.basicallybritishtearoom.com/

9. A growler of Trinity beer - I often pick up a growler from Trinity Brewhouse for the holidays. The brown glass jugs are printed with a RI license plate, so they are a neat souvenir as well. The beer menu changes often and usually includes 6 brews.

http://www.trinitybrewhouse.com/

10. Local gift certificates - So many Starbucks gift cards change hands over the holidays. Why not support local businesses by seeing if your favorite cafes, restaurants or food shops sell gift certificates? Not only will you be giving the recipient a chance to pick out their own gift, but you’ll also allow them to discover a place they might not have otherwise found.

If you live in the area and know of some local eateries and food shops that sell gift certificates, please leave a comment.

Happy holidays!

Chocolate Dinner at La Laiterie

Last night we trudged through the slush for an event I’ve been looking forward to for a long time – a chocolate dinner at La Laiterie (Map Marker 186 Wayland Ave). Jeremy and I have long been planning a large dinner featuring chocolate in all the courses, so when I saw the event on their newsletter, I knew we had to see how the creative and talented folks at La Laiterie did it.

La Laiterie has received a lot of press, national and local, so you might have already heard of it. It’s a small restaurant attached to Farmstead, an artisanal cheese shop in Providence’s Wayland Square. About four years ago, when I used to live less than a block away, Kate and Matt Jennings took over a little shop called “The Cheese Shop” (which seemed to sell more condiments than cheese) and transformed it into one of the best cheese stores in the northeast. It’s definitely a must-see if you’re visiting Providence.

This dinner was held in conjunction with Taza Chocolate, a Boston-area chocolate producer. We heard about Taza over a year ago, when we went to one of their “chocolate lounge” evenings in Cambridge. In their Somerville factory, they grind the beans using a Mexican stone grinder, producing delicious organic bars.

Chocolate dinner at La Laiterie
I had to sneak a picture – this is the seared tuna with chevre-stuffed dates and yankee grits

After a reception in the cheese shop, we sat down to a delicious – and educational – 5 course dinner. I won’t go into every course in detail, but here are some highlights: (click to read more)

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Make-ahead Holiday Treats

We spend the first half of December anticipating the holidays, and all of a sudden we’re sucked into the frantic current of gift-buying and cookie baking.

Rumballs
Rum balls I made to give away for the holidays

One way to battle the last-minute rush is to make your edible holiday gifts ahead of time. I love to make rum balls, which actually improve in flavor and texture after aging a week or two in a tin. I’ve also found that fudge keeps for quite a while in the fridge. Many cookies, such as chocolate chip, freeze and defrost well – just make sure to cool before freezing.

What are your favorite make-ahead holiday treats?

Wednesday Wine

Wednesday may be the perfect weekday to meet a friend for a glass of wine.

Or six.

If you think I’m suggesting a mid-week drunken rampage, you’re wrong. I’m recommending an exercise that will challenge your palate and your mind – wine tasting.

Providence has two regular tastings every Wednesday. Many people are intimidated by wine, but these events are both accessible and affordable.

Wine Tasting Wednesday at the Napa Valley Grille
Tasting wine at the Napa Valley Grille (photo by Jeremy May)

1. Wine Tasting Wednesdays at the Napa Valley Grille
When? Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm
What? To drink, 3 reds and 3 whites (from California, of course). To eat, an appetizer plate with three small, but satisfying, creations. For your education, cards with tasting notes for each wine.
How much? $2 a pour
Where? Map Marker 111 Providence Place, Providence (at the mall, street access)

2. Wednesday Wine Flights at Gracie’s
When? Wednesdays, 5-7pm
What? To drink, three wines in the week’s theme (see the schedule on their site). To eat, tasty treats from Gracie’s famous kitchen.
How much? $10 total
Where? Map Marker 194 Washington St., Providence (downtown)

Narragansett Creamery

In my post about the winter farmers’ market, I mentioned Rhode Island’s new cheesemaker Narragansett Creamery. On Tuesday I attended their ceremonial cheese cutting at Eno Fine Wines in downtown Providence, where a large crowd happily munched away at 5 types of cheese and toasted the creamery’s beginnings.

Cheese from Narragansett Creamery
Queso Blanco and Salty Sea feta from Narragansett Creamery

Among the crowd were local food personalities as well as the mayor and secretary of state. The two politicians performed the cheese-cutting together, a true sign of Providence’s food renaissance.

Narragansett Creamery may be a new name, but their cheeses are produced under Providence Specialty Products, a company that has been producing and exporting cheese for almost 20 years. They teamed up with local food activist Louella Hill to turn their focus to Rhode Island, marketing the cheeses inside the state and using milk from within a 50-mile radius (their hope is to one day source milk from inside Rhode Island).

Now onto the cheese! They brought 5 varieties:
Queso Blanco – an non-aged farmers’ cheese
Salty Sea – a feta (Providence Specialty Products’ award-winning recipe)
Renaissance – a delicious ricotta
Divine Providence – raw milk gouda
Atwells Gold – an asiago

If you curd use a piece, head over to Farmstead, the new wintertime farmers’ market, or Venda Ravioli. (Really, did you think I could get through this post without a cheese pun?)

Wintertime Farmers’ Market

Providence might be a small city, but we’re lucky to have a lot of people who care about good food. That’s what I was thinking on Saturday when I went to the opening of the new wintertime farmers’ market at AS220.

Oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm
Oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm

It’s not huge – about 10 vendors – but they brought diverse goods such as produce, coffee, honey, seafood and chocolate. I was planning to cook mussels for dinner so I was thrilled to find some that were fresh, plump, and half the supermarket’s price! I also picked up a dozen oysters from Matunuck Oyster Farm, a pound of coffee from New Harvest coffee roasters, RI-made tortillas (only $2 for a huge package) and my first piece of cheese from RI’s new artisanal cheese maker, Narragansett Creamery.

Bellum Gnosticorum

I’d like to take a rare break from the food-related posts and mention one of my favorite recordings. It’s called Bellum Gnosticorum and was recorded by G.O.R., a project of Italian musician and composer Francesco Banchini. His website describes it as a “journey in the antique Mediterranean cultures in the late Medieval period”.

Similar to the title’s meaning (the war between good and bad), the music is both dark and pleasant, and seems at home in many different contexts – meditation, dinner, dancing, a walk through the forest. Complex instrumentation provides a lush accompaniment for multilingual vocals and chanting – or is it the other way around? What I think is amazing about this album is that it’s accessible to people with ‘normal’ musical tastes, but is especially appreciated by musicians, music historians, and more eccentric musical palates.

Available from several online stores like fossildungeon.com, Projekt: darkwave, and of course amazon.com (listed in price order). If you enjoy Bellum Gnosticorum, make sure to check out Banchini’s other projects.

Chouriço Mac and Cheese

Providence has a large Portuguese population, so Chouriço is easily found on the supermarket shelves. One way I like to use it is in macaroni and cheese.

Chouriço Mac and Cheese
Photo of chouriço mac and cheese by Jeremy May

Most recently I made this as a Thanksgiving side, and like turkey, it makes for fantastic leftovers. Bake it in ramekins and refrigerate or freeze the individual portions.

Cut one or two chouriço (or chorizo) sausages in quarter inch dice. Cook in a frying pan until it begins to crisp. Prepare your favorite mac and cheese (the recipe I usually use is adapted from this one on the “Heluva Good” cheese website). Stir in the sausage before it goes in the baking dish. Bake and enjoy!

Gifts for Food Lovers

The holidays are approaching. Are you looking for unique gifts? Here are some of my favorites, with an emphasis on Rhode Island.

1. Chocolates from Garrison Confections. I’ve bought these for birthdays, holidays, and hosts. If it’s hard to choose, pick up a seasonal collection. You might want to buy a piece or two for yourself because they’re so good, nobody will want to share.

http://www.garrisonconfections.com/

Chocolates from Garrison Confections
Chocolates from Garrison Confections

2. Ice Wine from Newport Vineyards. I once sent a bottle of this excellent dessert wine to my parents, and it was such a hit that they now pick up a few bottles for gifts throughout the year. This is a wine that can be appreciated by wine enthusiasts and novices alike.

http://www.newportvineyards.com
also available at local stores such as http://enofinewines.com

3. The Genesis Center cookbook. Support a good cause – the center’s culinary job training program – while cooking up recipes written by the culinary students and staff. Recipes from 25 cultures are featured alongside short bios of their authors.

Available online at http://foodforthoughtri.org (see bottom left).

4. A subscription to Edible Rhody. I just ordered one for my mother so she can read about Rhode Island food from far away. The quarterly publication covers local food, restaurants and recipes.

http://www.ediblerhody.com

5. Foodie Fight. This one’s not RI related, but I had to include it for the trivia and food freaks on your list. I gave this to my dad for his birthday and we found the questions quite challenging.

Foodie Fight on Amazon.com

50 Mile Meal

Tonight we went local to eat local. Downtown Providence’s Local 121 recently started a Sunday “50 Mile Meal” – three courses with ingredients from a 50 mile radius.

For a starter I had fried green tomatoes, for an entree, a seared tuna salad and for dessert, a pear poached in white wine with caramel and a delicious scoop of ice cream. This, with a glass of wine, was included in the meal’s $29.95 price tag. My boyfriend had beet salad, a delicious pork shank braised in Sakonnet Vineyard’s Vidal Blanc, and a brownie parfait.

50 Mile Meal at Local 121

The dinner runs from 3-9, and if you’re there between 5 and 8, you can also enjoy a live Irish session by the bar. The mood is mellow and cozy, and you’d feel equally comfortable dressed up or down.  Before dinner, I recommend sampling their creative cocktail menu at the beautifully restored bar.