|It's OK...Read Her Diary: Meet Fiona Coxe|
|Written by Jon Ross-Wiley|
About one month ago, I attended a Sunday evening social, which was part of the Eat, Drink, and Be Social two-day event in Cambridge, MA. The events (the Sunday social and Monday symposium) brought together foodies and social media experts to discuss the various places these two worlds intersect. Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the symposium, but the evening event was full of great food and drink from Dante's and terrific networking opportunities.
Through Twitter, I have come to know people by their "handle", so it was fun to put real names and faces to these people with whom I interact almost daily. Among these local Boston foodies was Fiona Coxe. Prior to the event, Fiona was "@BostonFoodDiary" to me on Twitter. I love finding people who, like me, have a love of food at the core of their being. Fiona is one such person.
Fiona's website, A Boston Food Diary, and accompanying blog are both terrific and reflect Fiona's true love of food and the interactions that occur as a result of it. When you visit the site, you will be pleased to find an impressive number of restaurant reviews, event recaps, and recipes. Local In Season actually made an appearance in A Boston Food Diary's "Locally Featured" section, and, in responding to Fiona's questions for the article, it became clear that we are very much on the same page, and that collaboration was probably inevitable.
Shortly after our feature on ABFD, I decided to ask Fiona a few questions myself so that I could introduce her to the Local In Season audience. More than that, though, knowing that Fiona likes to take the traditional and put a personal spin on it, I decided to give her a challenge. Take one of MY favorites, mac 'n cheese, and incorporate local ingredients. Fresh produce was a requirement. Below you will find my conversation with Fiona, as well as her challenge recipe. After reading both, I know you will head directly to one of two places; http://www.abostonfooddiary.com OR the market to get the ingredients!
A Quick Chat with Fiona
Fiona, it is clear from your website that food holds many memories for you. What is your earliest fond memory from the kitchen?
It's funny. I remember snippets of many memories from my childhood though I can never be sure which is earliest. There are so many, though, that were wonderful; sitting near the stove watching my mother cook and learning from her practice of tasting as she went, my father creating interesting (and always delicious) fillings for his Sunday morning crepes, and then, of course, sorting the cranberries for Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce - the first task I was given to help out with the big meal. Each one of these memories makes me smile, and it warms my heart to remember, They are some of the best memories of my childhood.
What is the one dish you still can't make better than your mother?
Her apple pie - I don't even try. Her perfect mix of spices, apples and sugar is just insanely good. End of story on that one!
Talk about how the process of cooking excites, relaxes, invigorates...you.
Cooking, from the planning to the shopping to the prepping to the actual fire under the food, and finally, the consumption, excites me on every level. When you gave me my challenge of making Mac and Cheese, I had so much fun designing the best ways of showcasing both my style of cooking, as well as incorporating all of those wonderful flavors that are in season currently. Then, heading to the farm and picking up amazing fresh veggies and, of course, diving into their beauty at home as I prepped them for the dish is such a great feeling, working with you hands, feeling every texture and being surrounded by the smells of each. Of course, there is that amazing sense of satisfaction when the dish comes together, and a taste that confirms your theories were right, and that the product is delicious. Everything about the process brings me to another dimension where I get to be creative, and relieves stress as I slice and dice my way through a pile of veggies.
What are the foods you can't wait for each season?
TOMATOES! I love them when they are beautiful and fresh. I find their smell - that earthy wonderful smell - rather intoxicating. I really want someone to bottle it and sell it as cologne.
What are your favorite quintessential NE ingredients? Our tomatoes are to die for, our herbs are amazing, and our seafood...oh, our seafood. Maine shrimp, lobsters, clams, Nantucket Scallops...our seafood is so sweet and perfect with such beautiful rich flavors. I love watching the seasons change and seeing what our local fisherman are hauling in.
Does writing about your cooking complete the process? Does it help you enjoy the meal longer? I began A Boston Food Diary as a way to "Make a Great Meal Last Longer", and to me, writing through my different experiences does allow me to really hone in on what was so delicious (or not) and enjoy all of the flavors and textures just that much longer. Writing also keeps me inspired as I review my thought process for what I made and different options I could have explored.
Thanks for taking on this food challenge, it looks like you hit a homerun. I love seeing how the fresh basil, tomatoes, and peas were incorporated.
It was my pleasure, I hope you enjoy it!
Italian Inspired Mac and Cheese
3 fresh medium tomatoes
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried mixed Italian Herbs
1 cup (give or take) fresh basil, roughly torn
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided into three parts
¾ box of pasta (whatever type you like- penne, cavatelli, elbows)
1 ½ tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons (give or take) flour
1 cup milk
1 cup each shredded mozzarella, parmesan, and Fontina
½ cup fresh peas, shelled
10 strips of Proscuitto
¾ cup Italian Style Breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons pureed kalamata olives, or olive tapenade
Pre heat oven to 300 degrees. Slice tomatoes ¼ inch thick, lay out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried herbs and then drizzle lightly with olive oil (2 tbsp). Roast for 40 minutes or until the tomatoes appear to be drying out, but aren’t chewey yet. Set to cool when done. Raise the oven temperature to 400.
Place basil in food processor with garlic cloves, salt, pepper and olive oil (2 tbsp), pulse or grind until a thick paste is made. Additional olive oil may be needed dependent on the size of the basil leaves. Put aside when done.
Prepare pasta according to box directions.
In a small sauce pan add 1 ½ tablespoons butter and melt over low heat. Add the flour and whisk together to form a paste. This roux will make the base thickness of your sauce so make sure that the thickness is good here, also ensure that all of the flour is cooked into the butter. Add the milk a little at a time and whisk to incorporate. Monitor the thickness here as well. Once at the right consistency, mine was still liquid, but not
runny, add the cheese a little at a time and allow to melt into the milk and roux. Season to taste until it reaches a good flavor incorporating the different cheeses.
Combine the pasta and the basil pesto in a bowl thoroughly. Add the cheese sauce until a desired ratio of cheese and pasta. Then add the Proscuitto , peas and the roasted tomatoes, cut down into bite size pieces. Mix together carefully, if you feel you need more sauce, add it. When it appears good to you spread into a shallow casserole dish.
In a separate bowl combine breadcrumbs and olive tapenade with a fork until the tapenade is incorporated, but the breadcrumbs should not be lumpy. Spread over the top of the casserole.
Cover with tinfoil and bake for 35- 40 minutes or until the casserole is hot in the center.