Archive for March, 2015

Turtle Alley Chocolates write a book!

Monday, March 30th, 2015


Turtle Truffle Bark!

That plain paper box printed with brown lettering, “,” derails dinner parties, at best by distracting hungry guests who want to crack it immediately, at worst by making dessert taste second best.



Then there is that secret flush of greed that strikes when the white cardboard box arrives. You take the guests’ coat, smile, welcome them in, but you are are already plotting your own Turtle Alley Moment, when the soft caramel studded with salty pecans, wrapped in crackling chocolate is yours alone.

Now, you can secretly enjoy your “next day” truffles while flipping pages on how to make them.  With her open, raucous confection-loving style, Hallie Baker (they call her Turtle Hallie) shares the Turtle Alley rules of the road in her new book: “Turtle Truffle Bark!

Allen Penn's photo - turtles

“I’ve spent many hours on the phone trouble-shooting home cooks’ chocolate crises,” Baker says, those why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-make-chocolate-covered-cherries-at-home moments; “Turtle Truffle Bark!” is not only the ambulance to those chocolate emergencies but a primer on creating confections at home.

Hallie Baker working

Baker is a painter by education, a painter who worked in restaurants, candy and ice cream shops to pay for canvas. While kids in sandy bathing suits begging for soft serve did nothing for her, Baker fell in love with the chemistry of chocolate on the way to affording paints and brushes. After working in a Prides Crossing chocolate shop for eight years, Baker opened Turtle Alley chocolates in 2000.

“Chocolate is a highly satisfying medium to work with,” Baker says, eyes twinkling, “people who come in your store are happy, and then you make them happier. It’s an extremely rewarding way to live…I still eat chocolate everyday – and I’ve been making it for twenty-three years.”

Writing about chocolate making, not unlike painting creatively, was by Baker’s account a joy.

“I loved the process of writing the book, it’s a fugue state, like in painting – when you have something that you like – you want everyone to have it.”

For the uninitiated, Turtle Alley is not old fashioned chocolate. Those turtles’ squat lusciousness – “a chocolate, nut, and caramel sandwich” – are more free love than Whitman’s sampler. In her book Baker gives good, basic turtle-making tips, like making sure the caramel is completely cooled to the touch, or it will throw off the chocolate’s temper, and melting high quality caramels instead of making your own, a perfectly acceptable short cut.

About that temper, Baker opens the book with solid tempering guidance, the key to “beautiful, shiny chocolate that has a nice snap to it when you break it.” She trouble-shoots dull looking chocolate, crumbly chocolate, and chocolate that “blooms,” or acquires a white film. Tips for truffle making include being immaculate and patient: keep your tools very clean and allow the chocolate a little time exposed to air.

“Chocolate on your shirt? – Let it harden, flake it off, then spray it with window cleaner.”

In art school, Baker may have been more traditional than abstract, but in chocolate her flavors are more DeKooning than Whistler: White Chocolate Oreo Bark, Milk Chocolate Sesame Date Bark, Milk Chocolate Coconut Curry Truffles, Dark Mayan Truffles (with ancho chili powder, cayenne, and cinnamon). Baker does have rules, like fruits are generally best combined with dark chocolate; milk chocolate makes tart cherries or citrus flavors fall flat. That said, her White Chocolate Blueberry Orange Pecan Turtle – “these babies just say summer! – delicious with a glass of prosecco!” – break the rules with style.

For the record, Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry Bark is Baker’s personal favorite. “Maybe too much going on?” in this bark, Baker writes, “perfect!”

“Turtle Truffle Bark!” is published by The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Photographs are by Allen Penn, including the white chocolate turtle photographed above.  To order from Amazon go to this link:


Turtle Hallie!


Dark Chocolate Mocha Cherry Bark, from “Turtles Truffles Bark!” by Hallie Baker


1 teaspoon coffee extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (secret weapon! Tell no one!)

2 pounds tempered dark chocolate

1/2-3/4 cup chopped dried tart cherries

Instructions Lay out a piece of parchment paper on the counter Stir the coffee and almond extracts into the chocolate, then the cherries.

Pour the chocolate in the center of the parchment paper. Scrape the sides down and start spreading the chocolate out to a uniform thickness with an offset spatula. Work fast – when you add ingredients to a bark it tends to set up fast. Use gloved fingers to spread out the cherries if they get bunched up. Spread to about 18×13 inches.

Let the bark sit until the chocolate has lost its wet look and starts to harden. When it’s just set, but not moist, cut the bark with a chef’s knife. Start the cut with the tip of the knife and rock the rest of the blade into the bark. Make sure you are completely cutting through the cherries so the finished pieces of bark are easy to separate. (Baker likes diamond shapes for this bark, as the cherries look like garnets.)

Store bark in airtight container layered with parchment paper. The extracts lose potency when exposed to open air too long, so pack them up quickly and well. Baker recommends this bark chopped up and sprinkled on ice cream or used in a cookie recipe.

Doves and Figs Preserves

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015


Robin Cohen

Preserves. The difference between a teaspoon of jelled, flavored sugar on one’s toast and a small grenade of taste so distinct you can hear the berries ker-plunking in the pail is always about the quality of the fruit. It’s not about the cute jar, or the homey name on the label; it’s about the fruit, just the fruit.

Robin Cohen, the creator of the Doves and Figs line of preserves and pickles, learned this as a child on Montauk, Long Island picking wild Concord grapes with her father. Her love affair with preserving abundance began then, and never waned. Years later, owning a computer company, in her free time Cohen delighted friends with gift jars of pickles and jams. With so many happy friends – and winning “Best In Show” two years in a row at the Topsfield Fair – she thought selling her preserves at a farmers market might be a nice thing to do: Cohen made eight cases of jam, the most she had ever jarred, believing that would be enough to sell at three or four markets that summer. She sold every jar of jam the first day. Stores were approaching her with contracts.

cooling jams

From the start Cohen was militant about sourcing fruit strictly from Massachusetts farms; today, with her product in dozens of small gourmet stores and Whole Foods, Cohen is just as strident about sourcing within a small radius. She is a gladiator for local foods. Ninety percent of her fruit is from Massachusetts; a tiny percent is from New Hampshire and Rhode Island. This means her preserves are made with fruit that has travelled a short distance immediately after it ripens, every raspberry or peach still bulging with all that sunshine-created sugar and flavor. Cohen points out there is a vast difference between locally sourced and “locally made.” Watch for that: jams that are stirred together here in Massachusetts with fruit shipped in from Chile and California are a very different product than those made with Massachusetts berries. To be clear, Cohen’s ingredient list includes figs, citrus, and nuts which she sources in the U.S., mostly California. (Cohen lives in Arlington, and cans either in her own kitchen or in a Dartmouth, MA grange which was savvy enough to build a commercial kitchen when remodeling after a fire.)

I’m writing about Doves and Figs in March for a couple of reasons, the first being that, after this soul-less winter, a taste of her “Peachy Keen” jam – caramelized peaches with pecans and a bit of Southern Comfort – or “Bramble Tea” – blackberry and Earl Grey Tea preserves – will restore your faith in nature. Packed with Proustian moments, all of Doves and Figs preserves offer tastes of the cloudless summer days in which the fruit ripened; you will taste plump blackberries so distinctly, you might feel the sting of their thorns while you pick.

Also, with Easter and Passover on the calendar, Doves and Figs offers unique gift ideas, should you be traveling to anyone’s home for either of these holidays. “Seder Sweetness,” an apple walnut, honey, and wine conserve, is the perfect gift if you’re invited to a seder. Cohen makes a preserve called “Spring!” (exclamation mark included), an apple, horseradish, and dill conserve uniquely wonderful over local goat cheese, spread on a cracker or matzoh. Cohen says the horseradish and dill here make Spring! also delicious paired with seafood and lamb. Spring! and Seder Sweetness would make you a cooed-over Passover or Easter guest.


gift package



Cohen makes an interesting Passover dessert with Doves and Figs “Chocolate Fig Sunshine.” True to her earnest localness, she uses Taza Chocolate – roasted, ground and produced in Somerville from direct trade cacao beans – in her line of fruit and chocolate preserves, like “Razzle Dazzle,” tart raspberries blended with Taza Chocolate. By the way, Doves and Figs chocolate and fruit preserves are Easter basket ready!


Preview-Matzoh Fig Bars


1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 1/2 cups matzoh meal

pinch cinnamon

8 ounces Doves and Figs Chocolate Fig Sunshine (or any fig jam you like)

1 cup sliced almonds (or flaked coconut)


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13” x 9” baking pan.

2.  Put matzoh meal in a medium bowl, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Pour melted butter over the crumbs, and mix well.

3.  Pat the crumb mixture into the baking pan. pour jam over crumbs, spreading it within 1/4” of the edges. Sprinkle with almonds or coconut, and press down gently. Bake for 20 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Allow to cool completely before slicing into bars.

The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives’ Redfish Stew

Monday, March 16th, 2015


Angela and Sefatia


The New England Seafood Exposition opened this past Sunday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. A vast expanse of hot spotlights and sleek-walled booths stationed with plush lounges for brokering things like Malaysian tuna deals, The New England Seafood Exposition felt part Disney, part massive Acura dealership. There were even long-legged brunettes passing sashimi samples.



Except the homier folks from the Chesapeake and Maine Lobster companies, whose booths photographically declared friendly expanses of their gentle waters, this event seemed fixed on making fish glamorous. Most booths had a tiny kitchen and a chef; samples were everywhere, from slick platters of steamed slipper lobster tail to teaspoons of glistening caviar in six different grades.

For the first time in two decades the city of Gloucester was represented at the event; what better way to declare the city’s unique heritage than to put aprons on Angela Sanfillipo and Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, and have them show everyone how to cook like a Gloucester fisherman’s wife?  (Sanfillipo is President of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association; Theken is a member.)

sefatia and angela

Repeatedly billed by the Mayor as a wonderful dinner, “if you’re a working woman like me,” Redfish Stew is a classically simple, inexpensive and nutritious – all that fish! – dinner for a family. Make it in a stockpot, and come home to a hot flavorful dinner. Sanfillipo and Thecken said don’t worry if the fish is soft and broken to pieces after hours of simmering; the flavors have melded and your family will taste a wholesome, mild-flavored stew.


serving stew


“Fish shouldn’t smell,” Sefatia declared. “This soup doesn’t taste like fish because fish shouldn’t have a taste!” – meaning fresh fish is so mild it barely has any flavor at all. That’s why fish loves a soffritto, like in this one, of onions, celery and carrots.

“And there are no rainbows!” Sefatia shouted to the audience. Hold your fish fillet up to the light or look at it carefully on a cutting board; if you see any sort of rainbow sheen, the fish has probably been treated with something – maybe bleach – to disguise its age.

Redfish, “the other white meat,” Sanfillipo and Theken called it, are landed in Gloucester in big numbers. They are a deep water fish caught on big boats, not day boats. They arrive in large quantities on the dock, and make delicious eating. As we watched the stew preparation, lobsterman Mark Ring told me that in the old days, restaurants would bread and fry a big batch of redfish for Friday night staff dinners. From the 1940‘s through the 1960’s redfish was the fish served in army canteens, school cafeterias, and prisons. It was mild and there was lots of it.

The one hundred pounds of redfish fillets that made Sanfillipo’s and Theken’s stew so delicious was landed in Gloucester, donated by Ocean Crest, The Fisherman’s Wharf, Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, and Steve Connolly. Samples were passed to the interested crowd from two large stockpots of warm Redfish Stew, prepared the previous day in the Snap Chef kitchens. (Watch for more Snap Chef news here. Todd Snopkowski, who started the Snap Chef culinary staffing business – think temporary work for sous chefs – is very interested in Gloucester.)

Sound, wholesome, warming, the Redfish Stew tasted like soulful home cooking after all the smoked salmon nibbles I’d had that day. I wondered what people in the Malaysian booths would think if they wandered upon this cooking show; I’m sure they would immediately recognize the simple, authentic virtues of this Gloucester stew, just the way, if I were attending a Seafood Exhibition in Singapore, for example, I would know I had found something very special if I wandered upon local women serving  bowls of warm, homemade Laksa.




The Sanfilippo’s Red Fish Soup


2 pounds red fish fillets, cut into pieces

1 cup sliced onion

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup kitchen ready tomato sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

4 cups water


In a sauce pan using moderate heat, saute onion, carrots, and celery in olive oil until softened and crispy. Add tomato sauce and cook for an additional 2 minutes by stirring it constantly.

Add 4 cups water, salt, pepper, and parsley. Stir, and bring to a boil. If too thick add more water.

Once it starts boiling, lower the heat and let cook for about 10 minutes. Add the red fish, stir, and bring to a boil by increasing the heat. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat and cook about 15 minutes.

Serve with toasted bread, crackers, and over white rice. Add grated Romano cheese if you wish.

Annie Sanderson’s Irish Soda Bread

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Sanderson's Irish Tea Bread


Sanderson’s Irish Soda Bread

It’s the week to reprint my favorite Irish Soda Bread recipe, from Annie Sanderson, who cooked professionally for John Hammond in Gloucester. Here’s Annie’s story (click on “story”), told to me by her granddaughter, published last year.


makes 1 loaf


2 cups King Arthur flour

3 tablespoons sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons caraway seeds

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup citron or orange and lemon peel

1 egg mixed with enough milk to make 1 cup

2 tablespoons melted butter + more melted butter to brush top


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix first 5 ingredients together in a large bowl. Add raisins and peel, and coat with flour mixture. Beat egg in milk, and add to dry ingredients with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Mix just enough to handle it.

Place dough in an ungreased 10” cast iron skillet or a greased round cake pan. With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the crest of the dough.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Butter the top of the loaf with remaining melted butter. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm with lost of butter and tea.

That Food Forum!

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

REfoodforumposter copy


Last Thursday in the Peggy Brenner Room of the Rockport Public Library, a panel of local food people met for the first Rockport Food Forum discussing what’s right and wrong about groceries, restaurants, and local food in this town. I sat on the panel. When asked why the Rockport Farmers’ Market doesn’t have more farmers selling produce there, I WISH I had said this:

Two years ago the Rockport Exchange (formerly Rockport Festivals) started the Rockport Farmers’ Market in response to the paucity of good fresh food in this town. All we wanted to do was bring a small number of quality local food vendors regularly to town so that Rockporters would have a day they could buy fresh ingredients for dinner. We’re very proud to say this is true: Rockporters can buy Rockport-raised grass-fed beef, homemade Anadama Bread, maple syrup, Whoopie Pies and Fudge Everything Fudge Sauce. About those farmers, we have three of them, including Seaview Farms which raises the grass fed beef, First Light Farm, and Vintage Greens. These farmers grow some of the most beautiful produce you will ever see, but they can’t grow zucchinis in June. They can’t sell avocados, and they can’t sell lemons, because in Massachusetts zucchinis are seedlings in June, and avocados and lemons don’t grow here. Remember, these are LOCAL farmers planting stuff in the earth just miles from where you live. Do you see avocado trees growing around here? That said, these farmers have beautiful food, and we are very lucky to have them. If we had ten more farmers at the market, you would not have more variety, because these three cover local produce from arugula to zucchini, with at least 4 varieties of luscious eggplants in between. A farmer’s market isn’t a grocery store, and you can’t buy First Light Farm Japanese eggplants at the grocery store. Lastly, we at Rockport Exchange never wanted to create a large-scale market. Rockport is a small town. We don’t need the farmer’s market to be a carnival; it’s a place to stop on Saturday morning, see some neighbors and buy a loaf of homemade bread.

Unfortunately, I didn’t say that. I was tired and had had a frantic week, and was not mentally organized, so I apologize to the audience for my rather scattered rant about farms and – well farms. I hope the above helps.

On to the rest of the night: Panelist Jay Smith admitted that everyone thinks he’s greedy and grumpy, and that’s why the IGA space is still vacant. In truth, he says, the best possibility grocer’s investors were scared off by Rockport demographics. “If 500 Rockport residents,” Jay told me later, “wrote letters asking a grocer to come to town, I could find a tenant.” Start writing, friends.

Eloquent, direct, even pithy, Pat Towler from the Common Crow, quoted her architect, who said that a grocery store is the third most difficult thing to build, only after a hospital and – I don’t know – maybe an airport. I told you I was tired. Towler said the grocery business is very hard, and she appreciates any and all kinds of grocery stores. That said, she’s very excited to serve what she calls “Glockport,” from her lovely new building on Pond Rd., opening in the spring. Rah-rah!

Ken and Regina Lane talked about their shop on the farm. (Does everyone know they have a shop on the farm? Do you know they sell fresh eggs, local honey, and – say it again – grass fed beef? Those steer are grazing just off South St. Did you know that Ken is the 7th generation Lane to farm Seaview? Did you know that last fall Seaview was sending its produce to the Rockport School cafeterias? How’s that for food less traveled? Rockport kids look out their Math class windows to Seaview Farms. Watch for the First Annual Rockport Exchange & Seaview Farm Dinner – more information coming soon!)

After that, restaurant discussion became a verbal game of dodge ball between two camps: The restaurant owners vs. innkeepers, the Shalin Liu, and a few residents looking for a meal in January.

“Why can’t restaurants in town be open all year long?” cried Team #2.

“Because it’s too expensive; a year long liquor license requires a restaurant being open 6 days a week. The year round population could possibly support being open 3 days a week, but who is going to go to dinner in Rockport on Monday nights in March?” Team #1 responded.

Some people asked if Rockport menus could change it up a bit. There’s a small chorus, led by me and maybe Tony Beadle of the Shalin Liu, who would love it if Agnoldo Oliviera of The Blue Lobster Grill served less New England Clam Chowder and more Mocqueca, or some of his native Brazilian dishes.

We heard from Peter Beacham who is spearheading an effort to allow wine and beer to be served in Rockport without the plate of food in front of it that is currently required; this would facilitate Rockporters meeting downtown more casually. Say, to watch a football game at Top Dog (- home of North Shore’s Best Fried Clams).

John Pentaloza spoke about an effort to crowd fund the purchase of the Blacksmith Shop, and create a publicly owned, operated, and supported Pub; can we rename it The Hannah Jumper?  (John, by the way, I, too, am a completely reformed  “no” vote!)

Disparate groups spoke mostly civilly to each other at the Food Forum, and maybe even catalyzed some new ideas.

In my eyes, Rockport’s Food Scene is all pluses:  It’s a tiny seaside town with a 7 generation farm right in the middle of it, locally raised grass-fed beef available, award-winning fried clams, the best donuts ever, and a small but might farmers’ market. Can we make a bumper sticker out of that?