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Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Crunchy Cookie That Could: Gilda Doganiero from Gilda’s Biscotti

Gilda Doganiero roasting hazelnuts at her Gilda’s Biscotti bakery in Salem, N.J..

As a Culinary Institute of America alum and pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, Gilda Doganiero had no trouble recognizing the plight of American biscotti. All over Philadelphia, Doganiero found that even the most delicious gourmet coffees were being sold alongside an adulterated, Americanized version of the biscotti that she knew and loved. American bakeries were trying to turn this abused little biscuit into a long butter cookie—a far-stretch from its traditional Italian origins.

“They [were] just the complete opposite of what they’re supposed to be,” said Doganiero. “Real, traditional biscotti is crispy. It’s baked more than once [because] it’s supposed to be hard for dipping in coffee and tea—the Italians dip it in wine.”

Unable to ignore biscotti’s cries for help any longer, Doganiero left her job at the Four Seasons in 1996 to form Gilda’s Biscotti, a company dedicated to providing Philadelphia-area coffee shops with the real thing.

Gracing the label of many flavors of Gilda’s Biscotti is a photo of none other than Doganiero’s paternal grandmother (also named Gilda) freshly arrived in America from Italy.

In her Salem bakery—which happens to be about 450 feet from the Salem City Community Garden—Doganiero prepares her biscotti in the traditional Italian style: logs of dough are placed in the oven until almost finished baking and then cut into the classic half-oval shape. Finally, the biscuits are baked again to give them the dry crunch of an authentic biscotti. But for Doganiero, staying true to the recipe starts with ingredients.

“I try to keep the flavors that we make very traditional,” she said. Obviously, this means shying away from all those “pumpkin swirl spice” concoctions that fly off the shelves this time of year, but less obvious are the parameters for an acceptable flavor.

“Something with a dried fruit or a citrus peel or nuts that would come from that area of the Mediterranean—almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts—[is acceptable],” Doganiero explained. She explains that the traditional flavor that most people associate with biscotti is an almond anise variety that was first made in Prato, Italy.

Gilda’s Biscotti can be found in coffee shops throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey (among other places) and are great for crunching, dipping, and trying every flavor!

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Brandon McAllister on Philly’s Battle of the Homebrew Shops Contest

Brandon McAllister holding a sample of his experimental habanero pepper-beer.

When Brandon McAllister’s hatred of Comcast prompted him to cancel his cable subscription, he did what many bored, local 20-somethings are doing these days—besides subscribing to Netflix. He took up craft beer brewing, a foodie art that has grown to accommodate the Philly area’s beer-snobs as well as its more casual participants. Like many homebrewers, McAllister started out with malt extract brewing before diving into all grain brewing, a less consistent but more customizable brewing method. And Brandon has done pretty well in his brewing endeavors; earlier this year, he and accomplice Ben Foley managed to take 2nd place in Philly Beer Scene‘s first annual Battle of the Homebrew Shops.

I met with McAllister to discuss beer history, technique and all the crazy requirements that beer contests force upon participating beers. Here, McAllister explains how he and Foley creatively navigated through the hurdles of the Battle of the Homebrew Shops:

Food & Faith: A Hazon CSA in South Jersey

The Hazon CSA of Southern New Jersey is dedicated to forging important connections between faith and food. Photo courtesy of the Hazon South Jersey website.

The intersection of agriculture and religion is not an unexpected one, just as long as we’re talking about harvest gods, fertility cults and all of those spooky pagan archetypes. Rarely do we conceive of the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—as having these same strong ties to nature, but the idea that God has bestowed humanity with land, of all things, is pronounced in all three of these religions’ scriptures. Today, after some 2000 years spent off the land, Jewish communities like Hazon Community-Supported Agriculture of South Jersey are rediscovering the sanctity of the soil.

In Community-Supported Agriculture, members buy “shares” of a local farmer’s harvest at the beginning of growing season to be received in weekly allotments throughout harvest time. Hazon (huh-zone), an international Jewish organization dedicated to “creat[ing] healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond,” has been spreading the CSA model throughout its communities since 2004, raising more than $5 million for sustainable agriculture and donating more than 30,000 pounds of food to food banks. All of this would not be possible without the individual Hazon CSAs sprouting up all over the country, including South Jersey’s very own Hazon CSA.

The South Jersey CSA was co-founded by Marty Feigenbaum and Val Yasner in 2004, when the two first paired up with Honey Brook Organic Farm of Pennington and Chesterfield. As Yasner explains, Hazon is an attempt to “connect people to Judaism in ways they haven’t before,” and part of that attempt is rekindling a connection with the land.

“The beauty of the CSA is that you are tied to the farmer,” Yasner says. Just earlier this week, she says, Hurricane Sandy prevented farm workers from harvesting the fields for the weekly pick-up. “This is what you buy into when you participate with a CSA,” she says. “We’re sharing that with the farmer and making farming a sustainable kind of occupation where they can get paid a fair wage.”

The Hazon CSA of South Jersey is partnered with Honey Brook Organic Farm. Honey Brook has locations in both Pennington and Chesterfield. Photo courtesy of the Hazon South Jersey website.

Feigenbaum says that the intermingling of religion, food and environment can be traced back all the way to the creation story of Genesis, whereupon God told Man “to till and to tend” the land of Eden. “Hazon interprets “tending it” as a responsibility to make sure future generations have the same opportunities that we have,” he says, pointing to Jewish traditions of showing respect for the land. “A commonly accepted natural practice of agriculture is of a sabbatical for the land, where you are to let your land lie fallow [one in every seven years]. We recognized years ago that land needed to regenerate itself.”

This logical respect for nature carries over to the treatment and even slaughter of domesticated animals. Yasner recalls a Hazon Food Conference in Connecticut at which goats were shechted (slaughtered according to kosher principles) by a shochet (trained ritual slaughterer) and served at dinner. Even Yasner, who is vegan, describes being affected by the reverence of the occasion. “I just never felt that before,” she says. “You certainly don’t feel that when you go to the grocery store and get your Styrofoam plastic-wrapped slab of beef.”

In its four years of operation, the Hazon CSA of South Jersey has held countless events to raise awareness and build community amongst its members—everything from a yoga and challah-baking event to a Sukkot farm-to-table dinner prepared by famous Philadelphia Chef Michael Solomonov and served to 150 people under a full-sized sukkah, or temporary hut constructed for the Sukkot celebrations.

One need not be Jewish–or even religious–to appreciate the impact of the Hazon movement. After all, religious groups have staked out a claim on many social issues, so why should environmental issues be any different?

Though Hazon is a Jewish organization, Hazon CSAs are open to people of all faiths. More than 50 Hazon CSAs have been established across the U.S..