A Sweet Discovery in Jamaica Plain…and Maybe Your Neighborhood, Too!

Cupcakes on wheels

Cupcakes to go

I headed over to Stillman’s Farmers Market at the Loring-Greenough House in my beloved Jamaica Plain to pick up some fresh local tomatoes on Thursday afternoon and was charmed to see a little white food truck parked in the driveway.  Strictly in the interest of journalism, I went over to investigate.  I was delighted to discover  The Cupcakory, a new addition to the local food scene.
The cupcake lady

Diane DeMarco is the owner and chef of The Cupcakory

Cupcakes and food trucks continue to be two of the hottest food trends, so a cupcake food truck is a genius combination.  Diane DeMarco bakes her cupcakes in small batches daily, using the best fresh, local and organic ingredients available. She works out of the Crop Circle Kitchen, a culinary incubator with commercial kitchen facilities based at The Brewery in Jamaica Plain, where many other local food producers are turning out delicious products.

DeMarco’s products are all vegetarian, including one vegan cupcake each day. I was immediately excited when I saw that she had a Salted Caramel on Chocolate Cake. I’d never heard of salted caramel until recently, when I tasted batch ice cream’s fabulous salted caramel vanilla ice cream.  By the way, Batch also operates out of Crop Circle Kitchen.

Salted Caramel Chocolate lusciousness

To further my journalistic commitment, I purchased a salted caramel chocolate cupcake and took it home for a taste test.  I stopped by  City Feed and Supply to pick up a pint of Batch’s salted caramel ice cream to go with it, but, sadly, it was sold out! Fortunately, I enjoyed the cupcake, even without the ice cream. The chocolate cake portion was moist and chocolaty but not too sweet, a perfect foil for the salty, creamy, sweet decadence of the frosting.

Plenty of customers have already found their way to the Cupcakory

“I don’t really do the typical American buttercream, which is butter and confectioner’s sugar,” DeMarco told me.  “I make the cupcakes to my own specifications, so I always want feedback. When people liked the salted caramel chocolate, I was thrilled, because now I know my tastebuds are pretty good.”

The Cupcakory has only been on the road for a month and is still figuring out where to go. Thus far, they’ve  been at various locations in Jamaica Plain, as well as the SOWA Open Market in the South End. Keep your eyes open – you may happen upon them at your local Farmers Market soon.

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How to Make the World’s Best Crab Cakes

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The two most important ingredients in the world's best crab cakes

Michelle grew up in Baltimore, where they make the world’s best crab cakes.  I don’t let her order crab cakes anywhere besides “Bawlmore” or DC, because they never taste as good as the ones back home and her disappointment makes her–shall we say—a little crabby.  Since Michelle’s mother, Doris, has been visiting us for the past few weeks, I asked her to cook up a batch of Maryland Crab Cakes for Michelle’s birthday party.

“If you want to make Maryland crab cakes,” Doris told me, “you have to use Maryland crab.”  According to Doris, Maryland blue crab is the sweetest crab you can buy. Phillips is the big name in crab meat in Maryland, so even though it’s a lot more expensive than the stuff you find in the tuna fish aisle, we went over to the fish counter at the grocery store and bought 6 8-ounce cans of Phillips crab meat.  The lump meat is the best part of the crab, but it costs more, so we economized by buying 4 cans of lump and 2 cans of the claw meat.

Doris learned how to make crab cakes from her mother and doesn’t use a recipe, but I watched her make the cakes and wrote down what she did so that you, dear reader, can make the world’s best crab cakes at home.

Doris opens a can of crab meat

First, she opened up all those cans of crab meat (3 pounds) and emptied them into a large bowl. Then she mixed in two tablespoons of mustard.  According to Doris, you can use any kind of mustard, but we used French’s because I think it adds a little tang as well as a little bite. She added about ¾ cup of mayonnaise (we used light).

She cracked 4 eggs and added them to the mix, along with 1 tablespoon of Old Bay, several dashes of Tabasco, and black pepper.  Then she asked me for red pepper, but since we hadn’t bought any at the store, we didn’t put it in. We also didn’t have any lemon pepper, so I squeezed about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice into the bowl. She usually uses parsley flakes, but since I had some fresh parsley in the fridge, I chopped that up and added it, too.

Doris adds the French's Mustard to the mixture

Another secret to making great crab cakes, according to Doris, is not to use a lot of filler. You need some binding, but if you put too much in, you can’t taste the crab.  Some people like to use bread crumbs, but Doris’ family prefers Ritz crackers.  She opened up a whole sleeve of Ritz crackers and kind of crushed them with her hands before she added them to the bowl.  She thought the mixture seemed too dry, so she added 3 more eggs, for a total of 7.

When she’s home, Doris uses an ice cream scoop to form the cakes, but since we don’t have a scoop, I found a nice round spoon that probably holds about 3 tablespoons.  She scooped up crab cake mixture and then used her hands to squish it into a 3-4 inch round cake, which she flattened a little once she put in on a plate.  We had enough mixture for about 4 dozen cakes.

Doris forms the crab cakes

Outside of knowing the right consistency for the crab mixture, the hardest part about making the crab cakes was frying them.  At home, Doris said she uses a cast iron skillet with just a little bit of canola oil, so we got out our skillet and heated up 2 tablespoons of oil.  Unfortunately, however, we don’t use our cast iron skillet very much, so it’s not well seasoned, like Doris’.  So the first batch of crab cakes stuck to the pan and didn’t brown evenly.  We tried a nonstick skillet and the cakes stuck in that one, too, so we went back to the cast iron and make sure that the pan was well coated in oil for the last two batches.  The results were nicely browned.

Now you know how to make the world’s best crab cakes, I have to teach you how to eat them, Bawlmore style.  Get out some crackers—the Ritz crackers you used in the cakes will do, but Doris prefers Keeblers Reduced-Fat Club Crackers—and make a little sandwich with the French’s Mustard.  The sweet, dense, juiciness of the crab cake blends with the tang of the mustard, the salt of the crackers, and the result is a taste of heaven.

Now, you, too, can eat Maryland crab cakes outside of Maryland – you just have to make them yourself.

Crab Cakes on Foodista

Boston Local Food Festival on October 2 Will Be a Love Fest for Food-Lovers

Berries

Local berries from Heavens Harvest

Food is love, as far as I’m concerned.  There is no better way to show your love for family, friends, community, your community and the planet than through what you buy, cook and eat.

As a fish-eating vegetarian, I’ve always preferred fresh and local food.  Until recently, however, I put much more attention on the fresh than the local side of things. I sought out fresh foods with as little processing or additives as possible because I assumed they were tastier and healthier than cooking canned and frozen foods.  As long as it looked fresh, it went in my shopping cart, regardless of whether it came from Cambridge, California, or Cartagena.

But the more I learn about the benefits of eating locally-grown food, the more time and money I’m willing to invest in supporting it.  By seeking out local foods from conscientious growers and producers, I’m supporting the local economy, helping workers earn a living wage, eating eggs that are less likely to be contaminated with salmonella, and swooning when I eat a fresh peach. What’s not to like?

Cape Ann Fresh Catch fishes for the best catch

So I’ve joined the Heavens Harvest Farm Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community-Supported Fishery (CSF) and volunteer at the Community Servings  Farmers’ Market.  And I’m growing a few herbs and vegetables in my front yard–still waiting to see if I can harvest my potato crop.

Even so, I still find that eating locally can be challenging.  When I go to the supermarket, for example, the signs often do not tell me where the food is from, and the store is less likely to sell artisanal products from local companies.  When I go to most restaurants—except for the ones that specialize in local foods–the menu seldom tells me whether the fish is wild or farmed, and where it was caught. When I can, I try to support the places that support local food and provide the information I need without having to ask.

I’m happy to report that the consumer demand for fresh and local products is beginning to force even the food chains and the supermarkets to provide more local options.  Just because the food is sourced locally, however, doesn’t mean that the benefits go to the farmers or their workers.  The only sure way to know you’re supporting your values with your dollars is to know your farmer—and fishers, and cheesemakers, and…  In short, be an informed consumer!

Which brings me to my final point:  The Sustainable Business Network is holding Boston’s first ever Local Food Festival on Saturday, October 2, from 11am-6pm at the Boston Waterfront at Fort Point Channel.  The fest will be a chance for you to meet local producers and learn about local foods while you attend cooking demos by some of your favorite local chefs, sample delicious local beers, and enjoy some music from local bands.

And—specially for “us” pescovegetarians—there’ll be a mini seafood festival featuring fresh, locally-caught delights. For those of you who love watching Iron Chef and Chopped, two chefs will compete in a cooking “Throwdown” competition, featuring a mystery seafood ingredient.

Free food, fun, and the chance to learn more about eating local—sounds like a love fest for food lovers to me!

Have You Hugged Your Farmers Market This Week?

Elio Duarte of Millbrook Farm holds up an eggplant

In case you didn’t know, August 22- 28, 2010 is Massachusetts Farmers Market week, as proclaimed by Governor Deval Patrick.  Despite the pouring rain that drenched Massachusetts during the first half of the week, the Farmers Markets were open for business, and intrepid farmers and shoppers were smiling and swapping recipes, as usual.

Logo for Loving Local blogathon, designed by Leon Peters

In honor of Mass Farmers Market Week, the In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens blog has been hosting a farm-fresh blogathon, called Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts, with a little help from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Mass Farmers Markets.  If you are loving especially locally this week, please consider donating to Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps the markets thrive. And check out the cool posts from the blogathon for some mouth-watering recipes.

I celebrated Mass Farmers Market Week doing what I’ve been doing throughout this glorious summer—shopping at and cooking and eating food from farmers markets.  But the great thing about farmers markets is that, as the season progresses, there’s always something new to taste or do there.

Artis Cooper buys red roses from Fanci Nanci to brighten a gloomy day

This week, I picked up my first shipment from the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community Supported Fishery—two pounds of filleted, fresh haddock that Michelle immediately baked and we served with mashed baby tomatoes, steamed corn, and a tomato and cucumber salad dressed with avocado oil and balsamic vinegar—all veggies from the market, of course.

Since my spouse is not a vegetarian, fish is one of the few commonly-available food that we can enjoy together at home or in restaurants.  As the Cape Ann folks say, “Your participation in the CAFC CSF not only helps our local economy prosper, it delivers to your table the freshest locally-caught, sustainable, seafood available.” For more info about CSFs, read this great article from The Wall Street Journal.

Laurie Herboldsheimer of Golden Rule Honey offers a sample

I also tried a new taste treat this week: The Queen of Chocolate – Spicy Chocolate Mix from Golden Rule Honey. It’s a honey-sweetened, powdery blend of rich, natural high fat cocoa, Golden Rule’s treatment-free Arizona Rangeland Honey, and Turkish Aleppo pepper). Although the combination sounds weird, it delivers a solid hit of chocolate with a spicy kick that satisfies my chocolate cravings. I’ve been enjoying it sprinkled on Blue Frog Bakery’s Seven-Grain Bread with Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter

Golden Rule Honey co-owners Laurie Herboldsheimer and Dean Stiglitz, authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping, sell honey and chocolate at the Community Servings Farmers Market and 6 other markets each week. Unlike most beekeepers, “We don’t medicate our bees or feed them sugar or high-fructose corn syrup,” Herboldsheimer told me.

Every week is Massachusetts Farmers Market Week at my house.