Ari's Five Foods

5 Foods for the Week of October 4, 2009

Hey Everyone

Fall is here in force I guess. Cooler weather, less sun than I’d like to see, tomato season winding down, and days are getting shorter. But hey, there’s lots and lots of good stuff happening too. Construction at the coffee space, chocolate and apricot rugelach out at the Bakeshop, a bunch of good ZingTrain seminars, late fall produce from Cornman and actually way more good foods to write about than I can possibly fit in to these five. Which means more to come soon. Stay tuned.
In the mean time . . . here’s five foods I’ve been focused on for the last few days!

Have fun and eat good food!


1. Christmas Cookie Club Cookies from the Bakehouse

If you haven’t yet heard the story of the Cookie Club and our baking the cookies, here’s the dope:

  1. Ann Pearlman is an Ann Arbor author and psychologist.
  2. Aside from Ann already being a good regular ZCoB customer, you might likely also know her through her daughter, the marvelous Melina Hinton, who’s been a server of great style at the Roadhouse since we opened there six years ago.
  3. While Ann’s written a number of books already, (“Infidelity” was also made into a movie) this is her first novel. And the initial pre-release response has been huge. How huge? The first print run of the book is 300,000! That’s a lot by anyone’s publishing standards.
  4. The formal release date for the book is October 20.
  5. While the books will be in probably every bookstore in the country, only one bakery in the U.S. is going to be making Christmas Cookie Club cookies to sell. Guess who that could possibly be?
  6. Ann (and the whole family in fact) are great people, very loyal Zing supporters and very caring, community oriented folks. And because of that and their connection with us we get the chance to be THE only spot making these cookies.
  7. The Bakehouse’s Christmas Cookie Club box will be sold all over the ZCoB as well as to bookstores and retailers around the country. But because Ann’s from Ann Arbor and because of our close connection with her and her family, AA should be the epicenter of all the activity. I don’t know fully what that activity will be but I’d guess you’ll see her all over the TV talk shows and all that good stuff on TV, radio, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and other avenues of anti-social media.
  8. The cookies will be sold in a very, very cool box that the crew at M & G designed. Looks like a book with the cookies inside and includes paintings of the cookies that Ann did (oh yeah, forgot to tell you that she also paints!).
  9. The formal release date of the cookies will be Oct. 16, four days before the book comes out. Within the ZCoB, you can buy them here individually in small bags or on their own too.
  10. The main thing of course in the end of the day is that the cookies are really tasty.

So those are the highlights. You can read more about the book and what’s going on from Ann’s end of things at Ann’s website and there’s a link (or you could go right there…) to which mentions us, our oatmeal cookies and the piece I wrote for the inside of the box is in the recipe exchange part. What follows here is adjusted and adapted a bit from the copy I wrote that’s inside the Christmas Cookie Club box when you buy it. It tells the story though of our relationship with Ann and the cookies…

The storyline of how we at Zingerman’s connected with the Christmas Cookie Club isn’t quite as romantic as that of the book, but it’s certainly a nice one and one that seems fully in synch with everything Ann Pearlman’s written about. It starts back in the summer of 2003, when we were getting ready to open the Roadhouse, (our sit down restaurant in which we serve traditional American foods). Melina Hinton was one of the first servers we hired. Over the years Melina became an ever more important part of our team, and the breadth of our connection grew ever wider; her sister Elizabeth came to work with us for a while as well; we got to know Melina’s daughters and watched them grow up. And then at some point a year or two in, got to meet her mother, Ann. Which is why, although most people know Ann Pearlman as the famous author “The Christmas Cookie Club,” I know her, first and foremost, as “Melina’s Mother.”

Regardless of entrée, the main thing is that the connection with Ann turned out to be a great one. We share values around creativity and caring for the community, as well as a passion for good writing, and in this case, good cookies. Given the national stage on which “The Christmas Cookie Club” is “showing” this fall—network talk shows, big time films, blogs and magazines galore—I’m sure Ann and her agent could have handed the opportunity to make these cookies to some big time industrial bakery that would have paid a lot of money for the opportunity. But in the spirit of the Cookie Club, our long-standing relationship and Ann’s commitment to quality and local production, we’ve worked together to do a set of cookies that match the spirit of all that I’ve talked about above. I’m sure there are less costly cookies that could have been stuck into a “Christmas Cookie Club” tin, but I doubt that they’d actually have had the spirit, soul and flavor of the ones that Amy, Frank and everyone from the Bakehouse has put into these. I hope you enjoy eating them as much as we’ve enjoyed working with Ann, reading, baking, testing, tasting, and talking about them.

Before I move on I should state really clearly that not only is this a good story but the actual cookies are really, really good! They’ve been winning raves from all the staff, many of whom have been diligently eating all the test bakes! Thin subtly spicy little ginger crisps, pecan butter balls (aka, Mexican Wedding Cookies or Russian Tea Cookies) that are out of the book, plus one of my long time favorites, the mint chocolate shortbread from the Bakehouse. That trio of taste treats is packed into a book-like box designed by our very own creative graphics crew. It’s actually really a great package, especially I think if you pair it up with a copy of Ann’s book. We should have signed copies of the book on hand probably too. It would clearly make a great gift for anyone who likes to read and eat cookies, which is probably a pretty high percentage of people out in the Zingerman’s universe.

Looking ahead, stay tuned for the big $$ deal of a Wendy Finerman-produced (Forest Gump and The Devil Wears Prada among other famous films) movie, which is likely to start filming next fall! Ann’s been pushing hard to have the filming done here in Ann Arbor so hopefully that will work out. In the mean time come on by and taste a cookie and celebrate some nice local success and the start of a sweet holiday season!

BTW, despite the name of the book, the cookies actually taste equally year round—data from our extensive pre-release testing with consumer groups of all ages, races, religions and ethnic origin shows that there’s absolutely no correlation whatsoever between the cookie enjoyment and which month you eat them. And being from the celebrate everyday school of life, I’m actually looking forward to having fun with Christmas cookie consumption both ahead of the game now in mid-October, and then again in the months after the holiday hubbub has all died down. I figure that right when that depth of Michigan winter darkness starts to get to me I can sit with a cup Sweet Yellow from the Coffee Company and a pecan butterball, ginger crisp or mint chocolate shortbread and toast Ann and all the good things she’s brought to Ann Arbor and the world at large through her creative work.

2. Artisan Chocolate from Patric and Askinosie

Missouri Breaks? Two Reasons I’m Sweet on the Show Me State
I actually started drafting this for the November newsletter but in the process I got so into the newly arrived at the Deli chocolate that I decided not wait til then to say my piece on Patric. I’m actually equally high on Shawn Askinosie’s chocolates—they’ve been some of my favorites here for like two years now—but since more of you know his stuff already I’ve left it out of five foods for the moment. Either way, shockingly we now have two brands of world class, bean to bar chocolates from (to paraphrase what Mr. William Marshall said of those really great wild berry preserves from Serbia not long ago, “Missouri. Who’d a thunk it?”

Dorothy might have come from Kansas but I’m kind of starting to consider the possibility that, here in the 21st century, Oz has been shifting slowly, steadily to the east? Seriously I’m starting to wonder if there’s some sort of sweet magic at work— Parisian chocolatiers will probably roll their eyes, but to my fairly well traveled taste, two of the world’s top artisan chocolate makers right there in the middle of Middle America, 4500 miles or so from Paris but a under three hours drive east from Topeka.

My focus for the moment in on the one that’s most recently arrived on our Ann Arbor chocolate scene, but as you probably now already know, Patric is the second really good chocolate maker we’ve added to our list from a state that’s far better known for . . . well, I’m not sure really what the Show-Me State is necessarily known for—personally, Missouri makes me think of sorghum syrup, hickory smoked country ham and the Burger family’s smoked pork jowl (see “Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon” or William “Jowl! “Who’d a thunk it?” Marshall for more on that). But, whatever one’s sense of what’s made Missouri famous, I can safely say that cacao has never been high on anyone’s list. When I tell people that one of our most interesting new chocolates comes from Columbia, I totally understand when they all think I’m referring to the South American country—as in, Colombia—well known for its coffee and mythical mountain man, Juan Valdez, not the college town that’s home to Missouri University and its only slightly less mythical mascot, Truman the Tiger. (If you’re curious, Juan is actually the older of the two, having been created in 1959, twenty seven years before Truman’s formal entry onto the Show-Me State’s sports scene.)

All that background aside, at the rate things are moving Missouri and chocolate could well wind up being as closely as associated as San Francisco is with sourdough or Wisconsin is with cheese. First there was Shawn Askinosie in Springfield whose hand-crafted-starting-right-from-the-cacao-bean bars have been at the top of my list for years. And now there’s the work of Alan McClure, who started Patric chocolates in Columbia (the college town, not the country) a few years back. In essence what each of these guys is doing is the cacao corollary to what’s been done so well in the last ten or fifteen years in this country with coffee, or say, beer. More and more quality committed craftspeople—folks who really are almost fanatical actually (in a way that we here at Zingerman’s really, really like a like)—producing small batches of really full flavored, artisan product.

BTW, this thing of tasting the difference between well made chocolate and . . . other chocolates, is not just a cliché. Now, I know that pretty literally every company nowadays says that they buy and sell the best quality—I was walking through the airport the other day and caught the line atop the “local” Wendy’s proclaiming that, “Quality is our recipe!” But for Shawn and Alan (and us too) this isn’t just about talking quality, hanging up new banners or hiring a new marketing firm. These guys actually act on what they say in tangible, meaningful ways that are making these Missouri-made bars far more flavorful and much better balanced than most any other chocolate out there. Both Alan and Shawn are working and watching the details all the way back to the growers to find fantastic beans and then carefully and skillfully work the details of turning those beans into really good chocolate bars that you and I get to just buy and eat at will. Very seriously, you really can taste a BIG difference on multiple —at least four that I came up with this morning—levels:

  • The difference between what these two do and mass-market chocolates is dramatic—“night and day” would be an understatement. While the Patric and Askinosie chocolates may cost a lot more per bar, one generally eats WAY less (like a square or two at a time) and the flavor is WAY bigger. Calculate the cost/pleasure/consumption ratio (whatever that is—I just made it up) and I guarantee that what these guys are doing is going to come in at the top of the stack. In fact, now that I think about the cost per piece of pleasure is actually remarkably low.
  • The difference between a well made artisan chocolate bars and “artisan chocolates” that look lovely but don’t actually taste all that great. Seriously, the difference in flavor between what Aksinosie and Patric put out and the many other bars now on the market that seem to have similar “CVs” is pretty shockingly remarkable. Mind you, I appreciate the efforts of every small producer out there—most all of the bars I’m that I’m actually not that high on are being made by well meaning people who are doing all the “right” things but, sadly, still don’t end up with great tasting chocolate. Like olive oil and cheese there’s a lot of stuff on the market that sounds like it should be really special but just doesn’t taste that good. Please know that just because a well meaning producer buys fair trade, organic beans and makes dark chocolate wrapped in really nice looking labels, that alone, unfortunately doesn’t mean the chocolate inside actually tastes all that great. While it’s certainly probably better than what you can get at Best Buy . . . there’s a really big difference in flavor. You can, of course, buy based on packaging and copy that says all the right stuff, but there’s really no guarantee that fine looking labels and lots of fancy looking certifications are going to guarantee that there’ll be great flavor inside.
  • The difference between the chocolate bars we buy from Patric and Askinosie’s respective lists. All the bars we get from these two tigers (for those of you who don’t follow college sports, that’s dumb play on UM’s sports team) of Missouri taste making are good; but while they share that goodness each has its own distinctive flavor profile. Shawn Askinosie’s three different cacao origins—one each from Ecuador, Mexico and the Philippines—are all good, but very definitely different (if you’d like see my current tasting notes, email at will). More interestingly (and probably more surprisingly to most people) is how different the three bars from Patric are because they all begin with the same exact cacao—beans Alan buys from a single estate in the Sambirano Valley in Madagascar. Mr. McLure, it turns, out very mindfully decided to do it this way. “The whole thing,” he explained to me, “is to bring out the complexity of the cacao. I want people to taste cacao, to taste the different ways to roast, etc. The difference isn’t just about the percentages of cacao. My roast profile for each bar is different. The formulation of sugar to cacao is different in each bar. The complexity that’s inherent in the bean comes out because we’re using the one origin, but we’re able to show different flavors in each of the bars. I want to do what any great chef might do . . . someone skilled in preserving the natural qualities of the raw material and transform that in such a way that the tasting components of those are more obvious. It’s more about letting the cacao lead me and tell me where I need to go. And I feel like, to some extent, the chocolate is answering the question for me.”
  • The difference between different batches of the “same” bar. While the labels look and are the same from one batch to another the truth—in a good way—is that with artisan product like this there are variations from one production to the next. Shawn just sent me a note the other day to let me know that, “A few weeks ago we received a new crop of our Soconusco beans from Mexico that we’re really excited about. These beans seem to have a higher acidity on the finish, to balance a deep chocolate note. So there are higher highs and lower lows which we like.” While I’ve never had a bad bar from either Shawn or Alan, there’s no question that there are changes from one batch to batch—I really encourage you to taste for those small touches, to appreciate the few times where you/they/we really hit a ten out of ten.

At the moment, we’ve got four Missouri-made bars in at the Deli from Mr. McLure. All are made with beans from the island of Madagascar, then roasted, ground, conched and crafted into finished bars in Columbia. None use vanilla or lecithin, all are dark, all are delicious, all share some of the characteristics of the best Madagascar cacao but each has its own flavor for sure. Here’s the quick low down on each, with my holiday season tasting notes.

67% – dark chocolate with a very prominent flavor note that . . .seriously tastes like tart cherry (interesting cherry notes in our current batch of Kenya coffee too—might be a nice pairing to try the two together). While it doesn’t totally take over it’s very definitely out front, almost mouth puckering in a way that, if you like that sort of thing, will likely lift this bar to near the top of your chocolate list. Seriously, a bite of this bar is pretty much like cherry season for chocolate lovers.

70% – rounder in flavor than the 67%. Nice tannins (like in a red wine), which I personally like a lot, it’s still got some of that tart cherry thing still going on, but to me its less pronounced so that you have to dig through deep layers of dark chocolate flavors to get to it. Nice long finish.

75% – My favorite of the bunch, nicely chewy in texture but with the creamiest mouthfeel of the three. Nice crisp initial “snap” of in the mouth when you bite into it, delicious darkness to the flavor and a nice nuttiness (almonds maybe?) to it too.

70% with Nibs – If you don’t know them already, the “nibs” are the bits of cacao nutmeat, fermented in the country of origin, shipped out where the cacao is cracked, husked, and toasted, by chocolate makers like Mr. McLure. In this case though it’s not yet ground into the fine paste that becomes chocolate. By adding nibs to the bars, you bring a great textural crunch and a winy, not sweet, nuttiness to the chocolate eating experience. I should make note that Alan adds a LOT of the nibs, which I like. If you’re gonna go for the crunch and the flavor contrast, I say really go for it! Crunch away! Good stuff I say!

More on Shawn Askinosie’s excellent chocolate to come down the road (or email me and you can have it now too!)

3. Salad with Tomatoes, Toast and Terrific Oil & Vinegar

This thing is so simple that I’ve been reluctant to even bother writing about it here. But then I realized that I’ve actually made this exact same salad like five times in the last ten days. And since I almost never do any dish over and over again like that, it’s probably a pretty good sign that it’s worth sharing. Plus I’ve been making it with that really good Royal olive oil from Spain that I wrote up in Five Foods a few weeks, so, before tomato season comes, sadly, to a total halt, writing this up is about as timely as it’s going to get.

The salad is really just basically another version of panzanella, or in fact, another bread and tomato version of the Pensacola Gazpachi Salad I wrote up last month. Having been reading a lot John Thorne’s great work of late, it’s one of the sorts of recipes that he refers to in Mouth Wide Open, when he shared that, “Over the years, I’ve noticed that I’ve never written about a lot of interesting dishes simply because they didn’t fit into a larger theme or seem worthy of an entire essay. So, recently, I’ve begun writing about various cooking adventures that simply resulted in a dish that pleased [my wife] Matt and myself. Of course, it’s not in my nature to present a recipe without conveying something of how I happened to choose it and how I went about shaping it to my taste…” So it’s in that spirit, and we’ll say in John’s well deserved honor, that I’ll stick this salad in here. Whatever it is, it’s really easy and it’s wide open to you riffing on it as you like by adding other ingredients. So sans further ado, here you go. Ready?

Toast some Paesano or Farm bread lightly. Cut or tear it into smaller pieces and toss them into a salad bowl. If you’re not into using a knife with your fork while you eat your salads then I’d tear the bread smaller; on the other hand, if you don’t mind cutting up the salad as you eat, you can even leave the bread in bigger bits or even whole slices. Either way, while it’s still warm, sprinkle on some good vinegar—I’ve been using the La Casetta vinegar from Joseph Winery in Australia, which is truly one of my favorite things that we sell. (If you want to read more about it, email me and I’ll send info your way. It’s a great story and a great product.) Anyways, after you sprinkle on the vinegar add some olive oil. Like I said, I’ve been using the Royal oil from Castillo de Canena in southern Spain but any of the great oils we’ve got on the full flavored end of the flavor spectrum would be well suited to this salad. Then I pile on a good pile of pieces of heirloom tomato. Tis the tail end of the season of course but they’re still pretty darned good compared to what we’ll be getting in another month or so. Sprinkle on a bit of sea salt, and some ground black pepper.

From there I cut up some fresh mozzarella from the Deli or the Creamery. You can certainly add in other vegetables if you want as well—it’s your salad after all. If you’re into good garlic you can rub the bowl with clove of it before you start putting everything else in, or rub the toasted bread with one before you tear up the slices. Anchovies are great too if you’re into them (I am).

Lastly I top the whole thing with a lot of chopped fresh arugula. I like to chop it fairly small to get a better distribution as I eat the salad. Add a touch more olive oil for good luck, a bunch of freshly ground pepper and salt if you need and eat! Nothing wrong with letting the salad sit for half an hour or so before you serve it so the bread soaks up al those good sweet-savory juices from the tomatoes and the really nice oil and vinegar you put on there.

4. Ortiz Gran Anchoa Anchovy Filets

So speaking of a salad with good oil, La Casetta vinegar and very good anchovies… These are some seriously good anchovy filets I’ve had in a long time. And given that I eat a lot of anchovies—and I long ago gave up eating any that aren’t good—that’s not a small claim to fame.

Truth be told, buying anchovies already filleted out is something of a step down—if you’re really into these little fish at their best, the optimal way to go is to buy whole anchovies in salt that we bring in from these same folks at Ortiz, and then filet them at home. It really only takes about two minutes—you just rinse them under water and pull out the backbone. The thing of it is that the ones in the salt are generally the biggest of the anchovies. And, when it comes to anchovies, bigger really is pretty much better. And you don’t have a degree in engineering to see that the little tins we’ve all seen for packing anchovies are generally way too small to hold the biggest filets. Which means that the consumers buying canned filets just couldn’t buy the truly best anchovies. Until now!

Which is why getting this Gran Anchoa packs in from Ortiz is so exciting (for me at least). These are actually pretty much the self-same ones that come in the salt. For this Gran Anchoa work, the Ortiz folks basically came up with a bigger-than-every-other-anchovy tin out there that would accommodate these bigger that average filets (I was going to say “monsters” but even a “monster” anchovy isn’t exactly huge). It’s about six inches long and it holds a dozen or so beautifully long and lusciously tasty filets in each, ready to be eaten and enjoyed by just pulling off the top of the tin.

Once the tin’s been opened you can have your way with these things at will. Anyone who likes anchovies will be pretty much assured to be happy. I bought ten packs myself just to make sure I/we don’t run out. Toast, pasta, pizza, sandwiches. or salads. Very good laid out on fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers, great marinated with a sprinkling of sherry or Banyuls vinegars, tossed with pasta, Maras red pepper flakes (from Turkey) and some toasted bread crumbs… if you’re an anchovy addict (it could be worse, right?) like me… you’ll eat ‘em on most everything other than ice cream!

5. Terrific Taralli from Italy

I’ve eaten a lot of taralli over all my years of traveling to Italy and tasting ten or so different brands every time I go to the Fancy Food Shows. If you aren’t familiar with Taralli—and most Americans, of course, aren’t—they’re little bagel-shaped (but much smaller) rings of dough that are kind of omnipresent in bakeries and at parties when you hit the right regions of Italy. Saltines in the American South is the comparison that comes to mind for me but I think that’s probably overstating things a bit. Still, there are a lot of taralli in Italy. Having tasted probably a hundred different bakeries’ worth over the years, I can honestly say that most are exceptionally unremarkable. But when you hit the right ones, a terrific taralli is truly something to make time for.

The best I’d had up until this year were on a trip to Puglia down in Italy’s southeastern corner (home of the Paesano bread recipe, and probably the origin of the taralli tradition!). The “secret” which is really no secret at all, the bakers told me then, is the quality and quantity of the olive oil you use to make the taralli with. Imagine that? Really good taralli are made with lots of really good extra virgin olive oil. As a result they’re flakier and far fuller in flavor. Shocking right? (So-so taralli, it follows, are made with mediocre olive oil. Bad—which is by far the majority in my experience—taralli are made with some substandard olive oil blended with other less expensive seed oils.)
By contrast the taralli that we’ve just this year started to stock are pretty exceptionally good. They’re coming from the Tenuta Cocevola in Puglia, which you’ll find about half between the better-known town of Bari, and the bread baking cult capital of southern Italy, Altamura. If you’re traveling that way, the estate has a lovely looking (I haven’t been) hotel on the property. More to my point here, their taralli are… about a ten to my taste, or at least as close to that high level of achievement as any taralli has tasted to me in a good ten years. The flakiness I mentioned above is totally there. When you bite into one of these it’s right there with eating a super flaky pie crust, or, I imagine what a croissant would be like if you could compress it down into a compact little disc. The Cocevola taralli also have a bit of Pugliese white wine added to the mix to enrich them further still, and they’re right there with those really good ones I got to taste in the region ten years ago. Really good with cheese, wine, a ham board or just out of hand. Great little stocking stuffer if you’re ready to think about the holidays—superior snack to eat while watching a football game if you’re making eyes at the Maize ‘n’ Blue.

5 Other Things to Know

1. Kenya AA from the Kuraiha Estate – Try a pour over of the coffee of the month next time you’re Next Door! Special stuff from Allen and Steve. Speaking of whom, stop by the Zingerman’s Southside to see the still under construction new coffee space.

2. Don’t miss the Juliets (or what I would call, double almond croissants) from the Bakehouse this month. Double the almond filling, smaller over all size, and really darned delicious.

3. Paw paw gelato is coming soon from the Creamery. Just waiting for those pesky paw paws to be fully ripe on the trees and then we’ll be heading into production. If you haven’t had it before, you’re in for a treat. Stay tuned.

4. Maggie’s Wheel cheese – This is great, farmstead cheese available in very limited quantities very limited quantities from Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. We came upon after we got a nice visit from Jude Sabot, co-owner of the farm, whose brother lives here in town. I’ll write more about it down the road but in the moment, check it out. Delicious, semi soft, washed rind, milky flavor, nice clean finish. Complex and full flavored without being strong in the least. Very, very delicious.

5. Don’t forget that the Roadhouse is now open for sit down table service at breakfast Monday through Friday at 7 am! Don’t miss the chance to have one of those really good Grits ‘n’ Bits waffles, a bacon cheddar scone, biscuits and chocolate gravy (all three getting really good response as well from the recipes in the bacon book) as well as simple stuff like scrambled eggs, Anson Mills grits, and those darned good donuts. If you haven’t seen the nice piece Jane and Michael Stern put up on their Roadhouse and Deli meals last month, check it out.