RSS Feed

Category Archives: Foodie-artisans

“Speed-dating for Foodies” with the South Jersey Swappers

On the first day of December, I ventured to the East Landis Marketplace in Vineland, where 18 South Jersey food enthusiasts gathered, their arms full of homemade baked goods, canned goods, prepared dishes, crafts and garden treasures. The home-canners, makers and bakers made their way onto the second floor of the Marketplace where they set up their wares, spooning out samples and arranging their offerings. The South Jersey Swappers holiday food swap had begun.

The South Jersey Swappers met for a December swap at the East Landis Marketplace in Vineland.

The South Jersey Swappers met for a December swap at the East Landis Marketplace in Vineland.

Over the past two years, the success of the BK Swappers in Brooklyn has drawn much online attention. As a result, similar organizations (link) have formed in urban areas throughout the country, from Pasadena to Philadelphia, but South Jersey was once again left out of this primarily urban craze. It was only earlier this year that Green Bank resident Lauren Vitagliano started her South Jersey Swappers blog, with the very first swap held in May at Vineland’s Sweet Life Bakery, a stone’s throw from the East Landis Marketplace.

Word of the new swapping initiative quickly echoed across the South Jersey blogosphere thanks to local blogs like Jennifer Malme’s Down Home South Jersey (Malme arrived at the December swap with her sweet and spicy pecans and homemade lavender soap) and even media outlets like Edible Jersey Magazine.

“I don’ t really think it’s grown too much yet; I’m still trying to find a way to get it out there more,” Vitagliano said. “But I think everyone has the love of food in common—good food at that.”

Galloway resident Abi Douglass brought nine homemade goods to the December swap, including apple cider caramel cookies and romesco sauce.

Galloway resident Abi Douglass brought nine homemade goods to the December swap, including apple cider caramel cookies and romesco sauce.

After set-up, participants were free to wander around the designated swapping space, sampling and deciding which items they would be willing to trade for. Participants signed their names on a sheet of paper placed in front of a desired item, also adding which of their items they would be willing to trade. While many of the holiday swap’s participants were first-timers, the events have attracted their share of regulars, or at least repeat-swappers. Seasoned swapper Abi Douglass, from Galloway, brought no less than nine items for the swapping, which ran the gamut from Earl Grey macarons (link) with Biscoff to turkey stock.

When the “bidding” process finally drew to a close, the actual swapping commenced. Swap time itself was a bit like the foodie equivalent of a speed-dating event, with participants scoping each other out for trades while countless mason jars and crinkle-wrapped goodies (instead of phone numbers) switched hands.

At the end of a hard day’s swapping, second-time swapper Stefanie Modri had turned her garden-fresh pumpkin curry soup, fresh dried

Stefanie Modri's  "loot" includes homemade limoncello, marshmallows, and cinnamon Christmas ornaments.

Stefanie Modri’s “loot” includes homemade limoncello, marshmallows, and cinnamon Christmas ornaments.

mint and herb vinegar into a sizable pile of loot. “The homemade marshmallows are really special, and my daughter’s really excited about the [hand-knitted] scarf she got,” Modri said, parsing through her loot. “We got some good things!”

As for me, attending but not participating at a South Jersey Swappers was tortuous! The next time a swap rolls around, I’ll be carrying more than a notebook and a camera.

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!

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: