Bev at The James Beard House
in New York City

In early spring of 2008 I was asked to present a workshop at the James Beard House in New York City. I had, of course, heard about The House and the James Beard Foundation (and had even met James Beard several years ago) and was intrigued by the possibilities. In order to make a nonimpulsive, intelligent decision, I began exploring the James Beard Foundation website and this caught my attention:

“All performing artists deserve a great stage. Musicians have Carnegie Hall.
Opera singers have the Metropolitan Opera House. And chefs, winemakers,
and cookbook authors have the James Beard House.”

I was hooked!, excited and ready to work on the theme!


The Plan
We settled on a Saturday workshop from 10am to 1pm that would include a demonstration
and tasting of 5 to 6 items for a maximum of 20 people.

The workshop Izabela Wojcik, Director of House Programming was interested in was that of
winter comfort foods with soups, stews and sweets…that would allow me to feature recipes
from both The Mustard Seed Market & Café Natural Foods Cookbook and BROWNIES to die for!

Over the next several weeks she and I discussed the possible final menu, working over “not enough stews” and “too little garnish”, until I settled upon my final menu that featured winter comforts, stylish surprises and pizzazz. It was, without a doubt, an ambitiously delicious menu!

The Menu
Workshop Menu Created for the James Beard House by Bev Shaffer

Tangy Cheese Soup with Maple Pear Relish

Chipotle Chicken Stew with Bev’s Favorite Cornbread

Red Bean Stew with Vegetables and Chili Salsa

Warm Apple Cider Soup with Gingerbread Croutons

Brownie Bites
Including: Colossal Brownies; White Chocolate Round Brownies; and
Raspberry Mascarpone Filled Brownies
with Caramel Sauce Drizzle

I presented a Preview Class of the James Beard House menu at the Cooking School at Mustard Seed Market in Solon in November. This gave me an opportunity to share with my students (who were delighted at my good fortune), work on my class timing and tweak any quantities or other issues that needed perfected


The Prep
More than 20 dinners, lunches, and workshops are held each month at the James Beard House to showcase culinary artists from around the world. It was over the next few months I would learn that I would not be able to do my prep the day before at the JBH because there was a dinner scheduled for that evening. That meant I needed to find another location of relatively close proximity (obviously, Ohio wouldn’t work) and commandeer that kitchen for a day of chopping, sautéing, measuring, baking and tasting ~ all in an effort to create a comforting menu to teach and taste.

I decided to attend a workshop prior to mine to get a feel for the House, the kitchen, the staffing and the audience. My husband, John, was ready to be my workshop photographer so he and I attended a workshop on a sweltering Saturday in September. After quietly exploring the kitchen (which, by most standards, is compact!), listening to the chef, meeting the staff, and experiencing the overall workshop I was comfortable and ready.

I convinced my lifelong friend, Ginny (who lives in New Jersey) to let me use her home kitchen to cook and bake my way into readiness. So after a long drive on Thursday, January 10, unpacking of the supplies I shipped (five boxes of my favorite, “must have” organic ingredients from Mustard Seed Market) to her home, I awoke early on Friday to finish my shopping of perishable items needed and my friend and co-worker, Vickie and I began our long day. We prepared what we needed, baked off what was required, measured and set aside items to show and ingredients to use during the workshop…except for a 15 minute “break for lunch” (lest you think we were slacking!) we worked from 9am until 7:30pm that day.
Ah! Dinner out that evening tasted so good…


The Presentation
We arrived and unloaded at the JBH at 7:30am on Saturday morning, January 12. The kitchen staff was busy setting up tables, John was getting his feel for photographic opportunities, and my two culinary volunteers (Suzanne and Leo) arrived and were quickly assigned last minute prep tasks. Vickie and I were traying ingredients to be used in class, discussing plating and serving, finding tools and stockpots needed. Joe (Vickie’s husband), was assigned the task of procuring all the names and titles of the kitchen staff for me. Everyone had their tasks, the air was electric from anticipation, and not a motion was wasted!

Doors were opened and an enthusiastic collection of students arrived and gathered around the counter to listen, learn and laugh. I shared some New Jersey humor that warmed them, showed them how to zest an orange, use an immersion blender, make vanilla and tweak a recipe to their liking. They asked questions as I stirred and chopped and cooked and tasted.

Then it was time for the true test…and they retired to a clothed table in the sun room as we prepared to serve.  I oversaw and Vickie orchestrated the serving, reminding the participants with each course what they were tasting.

 

After the first tasting of the Red Bean Stew I was called into the sun room and was toasted in grand style…
it was a very moving moment! After each dish was served, I appeared to answer any questions they might
have or to remind them of a key ingredient they were tasting.

One participant, who has attended many workshops and lunches, told me she had three “ah ha” moments during the class ~
moments that made what she was or wasn’t doing crystal clear! From a sophisticated New York audience, this was a compliment.

The menu was comforting, filling and perfect. I made sure all the Kitchen staff had an opportunity to taste
whatever they wanted from the menu and there was very little left.

Most students wrapped their leftover brownie bites to take
(I thought I recognized some of the crumbs on the subway later that day!), thanked me as they said goodbye and left us to a quiet House.

John, Vickie, Joe and I packed our things, loaded the car, then did what every tired and elated individual does when they’re
visiting New York City…we walked, rode the subway and explored.

The People That Helped Make It Successful
Everyone is only as good as their support team, and I had a great one!
Special thanks to these people who helped make it all happen without a hiccup:

John ~ my husband, also my food photographer, is my greatest support system
Vickie ~ friend and co-worker, we planned and prepped and even found time to laugh
Ginny ~ your New Jersey kitchen will never be the same, dear friend!
Joe ~ our unofficial greeter and information gatherer, and Vickie’s greatest support system
Sanil ~ kitchen manager at the JBH for 13 years (originally from Haiti)
Fatima ~ housekeeper at the JBH (originally from Ecuador)
Gene ~ kitchen support at the JBH (originally from Haiti)
Carlos ~ kitchen support at the JBH (originally from Little Italy, NYC)
Suzanne ~ volunteer and student at the Natural Gourmet Culinary School (originally from Toronto)
Leo ~ volunteer and student at the Institute of Culinary Education (originally from Columbia)
Gary ~ JBH Program Committee (originally from Singapore)


Meeting James Beard

He was visiting Northeast Ohio, and I wanted him to sign my cookbooks.
I chose to bring only one ~ my favorite, Beard on Bread. It was tattered and hardly recognizable…
the spine was rubber banded to hold it together; the pages were marked and stained from baking.
We chatted for some time, and then I asked him to sign the book.
He laughed, “I’m glad to see someone actually uses my books!” and signed it
To Bev & John, Good Loaves, James Beard.



New Jersey Humor

For those of you that don’t know, I grew up in New Jersey and love the ability of people in that state – even though they’re crammed together and stressed to the max – to turn any situation into a humorous one. 

Friday, January 11, I made an early morning visit to the local Stop & Shop supermarket in Jamesburg to purchase the remaining perishable items I would need for the workshop. There were three ladies working behind the deli counter and I asked one of them if I could buy “an eighth of a pound of several things” to make lunch sandwiches later in the day. “No problem” was her pleasant reply.

I began to tell her what I would like and she said, “You need to take a number first.”
I stopped, looked around to an empty area with not a single customer around me and said, “Okay.”

I had my number in hand and she said, “Now, what can I get for you?”
“Oh no,” I quickly responded, “if I have to take a number, you need to call it!”
“Number 9,” she countered, without even missing a beat. It was all downhill from there!


Red Bean Stew with Veggies and Chili Salsa
Recipe by Bev Shaffer, adapted from The Mustard Seed Market & Café Natural Foods Cookbook, Pelican, 2007

Stew:
4 medium dried chilies, wiped clean, reconstituted
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups finely chopped white onions
4 teaspoons coarse sea salt, divided use
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 garlic cloves, pressed
4 cups dried small red beans, picked over to remove any stones and debris, rinsed, soaked overnight in water
to cover, then cooked just until al dente
4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes
4 celery ribs, peeled and cut into 1/2” cubes
2 small zucchini, cut into 1/2” cubes
2 small yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2” cubes

Chili Salsa:
8 medium dried chilies, wiped clean, stemmed and seeded
2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and seeded, diced
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons grapefruit juice
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, drained and seeded, to taste

For the Stew:
Drain the soaking chilies. Wearing rubber gloves, stem, seed and tear them into bite-size pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Stirring occasionally, cook onions with half of the salt and all of the pepper until golden. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add beans with their cooking liquid, chilies, parsnips, and carrots and cook at a low boil for 10 minutes. Mix in celery, zucchini, yellow squash, and remaining salt and simmer until veggies are tender. Add additional water as desired if stew begins to thicken too much.

For the Chili Salsa:
Using tongs, toast chilies in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, turning frequently, until softened slightly and reddish brown, about 4 to 6 minutes. Wearing rubber gloves, cut chilies into 1” wide strips, then cut strips crosswise into very thin slivers.

In a bowl, stir together the chilies, jalapenos, juices, salt, pepper and chipotles. Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes. (Chilies will soften and expand, absorbing much of the liquid.) Makes about 3 cups.

To serve, ladle stew in individual serving bowls and top each serving with a spoonful of Chili Salsa. Serves 10+.


Warm Apple Cider Soup
Recipe by Bev Shaffer

6 cups apple cider
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon orange zest, finely grated
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole allspice berries

Break the cinnamon stick into pieces and combine with the allspice berries. Place in a tea infuser ball or tie
in a piece of cheesecloth.

In a large saucepan, combine the cider, sugar, lemon juice, zest and spice ball/cheesecloth bundle.
Cook over medium heat for 30 to 45 minutes or until reduced by one-third.

Remove spice ball and serve immediately with Gingerbread Croutons.
Serves 6+.

Chef’s Notes from Bev
Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.



Old Fashioned Gingerbread (for Croutons)
Recipe by Bev Shaffer

2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup Barbados (light) molasses
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup hot water

Heat oven to 350°F. Generously butter and flour a 9” square baking dish, being sure to tap out any excess flour.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Stir in the melted butter, molasses, egg and buttermilk. Beat in hot water.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until gingerbread springs back when lightly touched with finger. Cool in baking dish on a wire rack.


All photography courtesy of John Shaffer (copyright 2008)