Yipppppeeee!! Ernie and I were extended the honor of being foodie correspondents for FoodBuzz at the The Piglet Party: Celebrating the Second Annual Tournament of Cookbooks. The event was hosted by Charlotte Druckman and Food52 co-founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.
As a bit of background, starting November 9th, 16 of 2010’s best cookbooks went head to head in a bracketed competition, vying for the coveted Piglet Trophy. It’s like March Madness for the foodie set!
As I followed the tournament on Food52 I was surprised by some of the winners in each bracket, expected some and thought others were just unevenly mismatched.
The Books in the contention were:
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and Jonathan Lovekin
Harvest to Heat by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer
The Vegetarian Option by Simon Hopkinson
The Art of Eating In by Cathy Erway
A Cook’s Journey to Japan by Sarah Marx Feldner
Thai Street Food by David Thompson
Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by Frank Falcinelli, Frank Castronovo and Peter Meehan
Urban Pantry by Amy Pennington
Cook Italy by Katie Caldesi
Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis
The Perfect Finish by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark
Cakewalk: A Memoir by Kate Moses
My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson
Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood
It was nice to see vegetarian options, and healthy options amongst the cookbook gladiators. The last two standing were Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (who shockingly to this writer beat out Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table) and Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. You can see the brackets here. This last round was judged by Mario Batali.
The event took place the night before the winner was officially declared at 92Y Tribeca, where we were able to sample fare from local vendors — Van Leeuwen, Rick’s Picks, Dorie Greenspan, Liddabit Sweets, Theo Peck, Salumeria Rosi, June Taylor, Lucy’s Whey, Russ and Daughters, and Lush. There was even a special Piglet cocktail – we didn’t try this, something about tomato juice and pickle juice was just not a turn on)!
I simply have to gush about some of these food folk!
We had two favorites -well, maybe three!
First comes with a story. We walked over to a table with these beautiful piglet shaped cookies. There were two gentlemen behind the table – one young and handsome, one older and handsome. The older fellow said that the cookies were from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Sable cookies – decadent little butter short bread, sprinkled with sugar. He then mentioned that the younger fellow was Dorie’s son Josh – they recently had a pop-up business together called the CookieBar (and we hope it pops up again soon!) I said to Josh I thought his mother was robbed in the Piglet round (well, I can have a fav, can’t I?). The older fellow – Dorie’s husband Michael – leans over and says, ‘Oh, Dorie would love to hear you say that. Oh, Dorie!’ And a woman turned around and there she was – Dorie. And like a star struck teenager I shook her hand gushed a few incoherent words I doubt she heard and panicked! Sigh…
The gals from Liddabit Sweets had a table set up with little paper bags filled with Bourbon Coffee Bacon Caramel Corn. In one bite you get sweet, salty, crunchy, bacony, slightly boozey, a little smokey – OMG, somebody stop me! I nibbled a little bit of this at the event. But I slipped the bag into my purse to enjoy later in private. It would have to be after the others went to bed, sharing is totally out of the question. Their website is great. They do mail order. They have a couple of pop up locations. Try it, you’ll like it!
Right near the Liddabit gals was a table from the June Taylor Company and the Still-Room Shop. At first glance, in the dim lighting, you couldn’t tell what this was or if you wanted to try it, but Ernie’s face lit up and said, try them – so I did. They had available to try candied citrus peel. Triangular shaped pieces of citrus peel that had been candied in syrup and rolled in sugar. It was sweet with a tang to it. The yuzu, meyer lemon, and Oro Blanco grapefruit were great. The blood orange, not so much. While we thought they were great just to munch on, they suggest slivering them up and adding them to cookie dough or scones, perhaps on top of yogurt. They sell these on their website along with wonderful syrups and marmalades and goodies beyond compare.
Next, and probably our favorite, was Laurie Freeman Pauker and her Lush Candy. Laurie, your mother-in-law is amazing! You are amazing! Your toffee and mallowmars are amazing! Piles of these amazing toffee bars, some draped in milk chocolate, some in dark, some with hazelnuts or almonds, some with a smattering of sea salt. All just incredible. Under the chocolate is crisp, buttery toffee which is unparalleled. And then! And then! Just when you thought that toffee was enough, there were trays of mallowmars. And not anything like those much coveted, short seasoned, supermarket mallowmars. Imagine, a thick, round graham cracker, a swirl of freshly made, so tender yet toothsome marshmallow on top and a thick dark chocolate coating. This had to be eaten alone. Perhaps soft music. Maybe a candle or 2. Oh, no, photos are not food porn – things that are as seductive as these mallowmars are (more on food porn later) – and this was a very, very good thing! Lush Candy does not sell through their website, but they are available in places all over the City, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
We tried pickles from Rick’s Picks (both People’s Pickles and Hotties) and fabulous Prosciutto from Salumeria Rosi. Sadly could not get near Russ & Daughters, Lucy’s Whey, or Peck’s Pate. We didn’t see Nuts+Nuts.
And beyond all the tasting and cookbook excitement, a portion of each ticket went to Wellness in the Schools, whose mission it is to improve the environment, nutrition and fitness in NYC public schools.
There was a panel discussion on “Food Porn” with Frank Bruni (New York Times), Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen), Ben Leventhal (co-founder of Eater.com) and Frank Falcinelli (Frankies Spuntino), which was started off with a slide show outlining and very lightly touching on the changes and advancements (not all good, mind you) in food photography. Frankly the discussion was silly – If it weren’t for Frank Falcinelli’s charm and wit it would have been a total loss. But, since I have the floor at the moment, I am adding the 2 cents in here that I couldn’t add at the event! There seemed to be a muddle here between photos of restaurant foods that bloggers write about and photos of food that recipe and cooking bloggers write about.
As a recipe/cooking blogger and reader myself – I read about 40 a week and write this one – the draw of the recipes is not the name of the recipe or even the recipe itself, it’s the photos. The photos on these types of blogs are meant to be informative, instructional, enticing – it’s easier to make a recipe that you can see the steps and the end result. Face it, we eat with our eyes. There have been, sadly, many blogs that I have come across and the photos are not -well, yucky. Not only do I not want to look at the photo, but I do not want to read further and I do not want to ever make the recipe. Ugly food is just that, ugly. Personally, I rarely find recipe/cooking blog photos to be my definition of ‘food porn’.
The restaurant bloggers (like our fav Culinary Adventures of Fork, Knife & Spoon), on the other hand, are only photographing food as it is presented to them. The trouble I find with restaurant bloggers is they aren’t describing technique, but tastes and flavors. Restaurant bloggers are prisoner to the plates and dishes presented to them. That description is done with a lot of adjectives, and sometimes too many adjectives! Sometimes those descriptions can border on ‘food porn’.
Food porn, at least to me, has always been associated with TV Chefs – like Nigella Lawson, the queen and seeming founder of what I consider food porn. It has to do with the too many ahhs and ooohs and moans about a caramel glistening, or the absolute over use of ridiculous adjectives in describing food. No, not just Nigella, so no emails and comments please, but she really was the beginning of that style of cooking show. Perhaps it’s just that the definition of food porn is subjective. Each of us having our own definition and internal buttons of what is evocative about food.
But that’s enough about that! Thank you FoodBuzz for sending us! Thank you Food52 for having us! We had a great time and can’t wait to follow along next years!