Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Food52 Piglet Party 2010


Last night, the 92nd Street Y Tribeca was the setting for the big reveal for the Food52 2nd annual Tournament of Cookbooks.  Pitting 16 of the year's most notable cookbooks against each other in a competition judged by renowned chefs, the Piglet trophy was awarded to the one book that managed to make it to the top, as determined this year by Mario Batali and his crack culinary team, as he describes in his terrific write-up of the final challenge.  (As a cookbook fan, I really enjoyed reading the parsing of the steps towards making the decision.)  Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood* was named the winner.

The Piglet Party itself was also a great time.  Foodie types, competition judges and participants, food personalities, and some wonderful food purveyors all gathered together to sample some great goodies and to hear the results of the big match-up.  I don't have any photos, as the lighting was very dim and not conducive to my camera getting good shots; however, I got to see some of my favorite folks including Jen and Liz at Liddabit Sweets, who brought along their fabulous "Breakfast of Heros" (Bourbon-Coffee-Bacon Caramel Corn - and, yes, I can vouch it is great for breakfast!).  This sweet treat is so deliciously addictive that I might just have to put it on my list to give up for Lent in 2011. I've been picking it up at their stand at the New Amsterdam Market, every chance I get down there.

When I was at their table, I met Josh Greenspan who, along with his mother Dorie (whose "Around My French Table" was a competitor), had a cookie table at the party.  It was great to talk to him about cookies in general and about how we are both big fans of them. Having grown up making them pretty much all of my life, I often prefer baking them to many other types of sweets, as my friends and frequent cookie pack recipients will confirm.  They had adorable and very tasty, melt-in-your mouth, piglet-shaped French butter cookies with a crunch of sugar on top for everyone to try.  I could have taken a pile of these home to have with my afternoon cuppa on this rainy day after the party.

If you follow the world of pop-up food stores in New York, you may remember Josh from his Cookie Bar, which was in Mizu Salon on Park Avenue.  Despite the fact that this was just several blocks from where I used to work, I could never manage to make it to the store before all the cookies were sold out.  He said that they went through 4,000 cookies in one week!  On that Friday alone, they sold 1,200 cookies. Seems we are not the only ones who love them.  Will there be another Cookie Bar pop-up coming up in the future?  Please say "yes," so that I can get another chance to try your creations.

My next tasting stops alternated between savory and sweet.  Russ and Daughters, the Lower East Side appetizing institution, was handing out cool slices of cucumbers dressed with silky crème fraîche and topped with salty smoked salmon tartare.  Simple, elegant, and delicious, this always seems to me to be the perfect holiday appetizer.  The next table I visited was a new vendor to me.  Lush Candy had samples of varieties of their English Toffee available for everyone to try as well as a chocolate-covered marshmallow creation that was reminiscent of a Mallomar.  I tried the former, which was a crunchy, buttery, slightly salty confection with a great balance between candy and chocolate.  I see from their website that they have a white chocolate version, which I didn't find last night.  I might just have to track that one down at a store that carries their products.

Then, I went back to the savory side of life again visiting Theo Peck and his friends to try some of his amazing Peck's Paté.  While my mother and her sister are huge chicken liver fans, I have never really been able to see the appeal of it.  This smooth, velvety creation might just turn around my opinion on that matter.  I'm not at all surprised at how wonderful this is, as Theo and Nick Suarez are the duo behind Food Experiments, whom I thought made one of the best dishes at Pig Island.  Theo makes this in small batches and then notifies potential buyers via email when it is available for purchase.  

Despite the fact that pickles are not my number one food choice, the folks at Rick's Picks folks have products that can convert the most die-hard brine-adverse among us.  As I'd mentioned in my write-up of International Pickle Day 2010, their People's Pickles and Mean Beans were two of the ones that might actually change my mind about pickled goodness.  They brought these both to the party last night along with Smokra, which I didn't try due to my deep-seated okra phobia.  The other choice at the table was, I think, their Hotties, which I decided to take a pass on simply as I needed my taste buds to try some of the other wonderful foods at the other tables.  For this event, they also created the Piglet Cocktail whose ingredients included (if I heard it correctly) pickle juice and tomato juice.  I also decided to pass on that.

My heart and my body then headed over to the table for Salumeria Rosi where there was more meat to be eaten.  I fell completely in love with these specialties when I lived in Italy and really like to eat only those that capture that same experience.  As I mentioned in my post about the pre-Marathon event I attended, this craft is one that highlights the care and quality that Italians take in creating only the best of the best.  The 24-month old proscuitto di Parma was unsurprisingly amazing, cut into paper-thin slices all the better to melt its sweet, salty, silken goodness on my tongue.  They also had samples of roasted pork (which really just made me crave a sandwich from Porchetta) and one of my favorite things to cook with a delicious proscuitto cotto.  Any or all of these items would make a great addition to your next antipasti platter.  

Along the way, I noshed at the table for Cellars at Jasper Hill, courtesy Lucy's Whey, a unique project where they not only produce their own cheese but also assist other cheesemakers by providing aging facilities and marketing capabilities to them, so that they can focus on the production of more great cheeses.  This collaborative process seems to me to be a wonderful initiative from which both producers and consumers benefit.  I absolutely loved the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar that they had to try.  Nutty and rich with a great depth of flavor, it was the perfect balance and went well with the popcorn that I was also eating from the Liddabit folks.  They also had samples of Oma from Von Trapp's Farmstead (yes, those Von Trapps) and Landaff Cheese at the table.  The first of these was softer and creamier and would be a great addition to an after-dinner cheese board.  The latter one I'd like to get to know a bit better, as it is supposed to melt beautifully.

Another great new find for me was June Taylor Company.  At this table, June had samples of her delicious candied citrus peel.  No surprise that my favorite was the blood orange one.  My mother went through a phase of making candied orange peel, which I always loved, so this brings back great memories for me.  June said the project grew out of her marmalade-making process.  So as not to waste anything, she started creating these confections with the rind as well.  They are useful in all sorts of baking and cooking projects.  I'm envious of my West Coast friends who can go visit her shop in Berkeley, but her products are for sale in New York for a limited time at a pop-up store in Midtown.  

The last bite of the evening for me was another favorite treat: Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream from Van Leewen Artisan Ice Cream.  This was all the flavors of the season rolled into one cool scoop.  I normally don't like pumpkin pie, but this treat could have easily found a place at my holiday table.  Not too pumpkin-y, with just the right notes of spice and graham cracker crust for my palate, this was the perfect way to wrap up a very tasty weeknight evening.  I can't wait to see what next year's Piglet Party brings to the table!

Buon appetito!

*You may or may not have noticed the Amazon store on the blog's sidebar.  I've added this cookbook to my list so that you can more easily check it out to see if it should be the newest member of your collection.

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