Journal entries from August 2013

My Dinner at Blanca

My Dinner at Blanca

Went out to Bushwick last night, enjoying the subway ride. When you change from the 2 line to the L, your fellow subway riders undergo a remarkable transformation. Suddenly they’re young, hip and very well dressed. The women all have bare legs, high heels, great makeup. Get off at Morgan Avenue and two food carts are waiting by the entrance; even at 9:30 the street is alive with people walking, talking, drinking coffee.

At Roberta’s the scene is even wilder, noisier, happier, a great jumble of people drinking beer, eating pizza. But you walk through the garden to Blanca in the back, and everything changes.  Suddenly your surroundings are quiet, sedate, serious.

Blanca is a bit strange, a huge windowless white space, all kitchen, where 12 privileged people are slowly served a couple dozen tiny courses. The meal takes a few hours. The room was clearly designed to be something else, and what should be an intimate experience is overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. There must be six feet of empty space between you and the kitchen, so you feel disconnected from the cooks bending over the plates, tweezering each little tidbit with scientific precision. 

And the food? What we had was almost entirely wonderful: the meal began with a small square of perfectly ripe white melon in a bright green, intense anise broth.  It went on to a wedge of peach, and a single raspberry in almond milk. 

Pictures are forbidden, and note-taking frowned upon so many details have escaped. What I remember best is crudo: shrimp so soft and white they might have been velvet.  Rich, oily mackerel. a single circle of octopus. A magenta rectangle of tuna....  

Raw shaved wagyu beef, a mineral mouthful, arrived bright red, then slowly darkened as the lovely young server poured concentrated beef broth across it. A pillow of tofu was brightened with fresh epazote. A bit of weakfish was brilliantly topped with black lime. Tiny tomatoes reveled in the sweetness of a corn puree. 

The chef seems to be challenging himself to wrest the maximum amount of flavor out of every ingredient, wanting to satisfy you with a single bite. A little tortellini had a filling so powerful you sat there, your mouth pulsing with flavor, long after the dish had been taken away. I looked down the counter: everyone looked stunned, happy. 

I enjoyed every minute of that meal. But I wonder where the restaurant will be five years from now. At the moment these expensive tasting experiences for a small, exclusive  audience- think Ko, Aterra, Brooklyn Fare - are the meals of the moment.  How will they evolve?

Every chef dreams of doing meals like these, but if they are to last I expect they’ll have to offer more than merely fabulous food and wonderful wine. Patrons will demand interaction with the kitchen, comfortable seats, good lighting, a more integrated experience. 

American food is at a high point; we’ve never had more talented chefs or more interesting restaurants. But that’s precisely why the smartest chefs are thinking beyond cuisine to the total experience. When you leave a restaurant like Blanca, you want to remember more than the pleasant service and wonderful food. 


Things I Love

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Taking the bread out of the oven this morning, it hit me that this wonderfully homely creature is the most-used pot I've got.

I bought my Dutch oven at a thrift store, maybe thirty years ago, for five bucks. Since then I've used it almost every day.  It's perfect for baking bread; if you put it in a really hot oven before you put the dough in, it becomes an oven within an oven, shooting intense heat at your dough from all sides so it emerges with a fine, crisp crust.

It's wonderful for braises; the little raised points inside collect steam, returning it as liquid so your meat is constantly basting itself. Nothing makes a better pot roast. On top of the stove it's teh perfect vehicle for stews, soups and sauces. 

You could buy a new Dutch oven, but why would you?  Thrift stores almost always have a few on hand. It's not just that you're saving money, but getting a little bit of history as well.  I like to think about my Dutch oven's last life - and wonder about its next one. 

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A Great Dinner

Wish I'd made it....

The Chef was Chris Cannon, formerly of L'Impero, Convivio, Marea, etc. I've always thought of him as a front of the house man, but the guy can cook. The food was stunning - a perfect high summer meal.

Grilled Filone with Burning Heart Farm Scrambled Eggs and Black Truffles:

A bright golden pillow of eggs laced with truffles. Irresistible

Mosefund Farm Mangalitsa Sopressata

From the world's most adorable pigs.

Mosefund Farm  Mangalitsa Lardo Crostini with Figs and Black Pepper

Soft figs, bursting open beneath melting lardo.

Forty North Mantoloking Oysters,
Manzanilla Sherry, Castelvetrano Olives and Shallots

Those oysters! Big, juicy, briny. 

Papardelle with Maine Lobster, Fava Beans, Corn and Tarragon

Like the richest lobster bisque you've ever had, tossed with noodles, fresh favas and corn. 

Jameson Farms Loin of Lamb, Parmigiana of Graffiti Eggplant, Jersey Tomatoes, Taggiasca Olives and Green Lentils

Lovely little lamb, and a whole new way to think of eggplant parmesan.

Grilled Jersey Yellow Peaches, Basil
Lambrusco Vinegar, Vincotto, Toasted Almonds and Mozzarella di Buffala

The high point of a fantastic meal. For me at least. The peaches were ripe and smokey, and they clung to that pliant mozzarella. Every once in a while, the surpriing crunch of almonds. This is going to become a summer staple in my house. 


Pretty in Pink


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There are many great cookbook writers, but at this time of year Elizabeth David is my favorite. Her recipes depend on nothing so much  as perfect produce. She collects these gorgeous specimens, and allows them to speak for themselves.It would be foolish to attempt her Mediterreanean recipes in the middle of a snowstorm, but right now they're elemental and completely satisfying.

High summer is the time for one of my all-time David favorites. You simply take tomatoes, slice them, and cover them with good thick cream. That's it. You won't believe how delicious they are. My only embellishment?  A little bit of basil.

Tomatoes and Cream

3 ripe tomatoes

sea salt

freshly ground pepper

¼ cup fresh heavy cream

5 basil leaves, shredded (optional)


1. Stack the basil leaves and roll them tightly. Slice crosswise into thin shreds and immerse them in the cream. 

2. Slice the tomatoes into rounds and sprinkle liberally with good salt and freshly ground pepper.

3. Pour the cream mixture over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the shredded basil.

Try not to lick the plate....



Things I Love

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When Michael brought this
enormous cast iron skillet home, I was furious. It weighs a ton. It takes up too much room in the cupboard. And I knew he’d use it exactly once.

I was right about the last part. And dead wrong about everything else. Lately I find myself reaching for this huge (15 inches across) black beauty with increasing frequency. It can cook a dozen lambchops on the stove. It can make pancakes for a crowd. And it slides easily into the oven, where it makes the perfect roasting pan for a chicken with a lot of potatoes, garlic and onions.  

And because it’s pre-seasoned, it’s extremely easy to care for. 

It costs about $70 - and I’m sure it will last forever. How did I ever live without it?




Hot? Or Not?

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Could hardly believe it when I found these tiny (about an inch long) pimientos de padron at the market today.  I've never seen them for sale outside of Spain.  I pounced on them and brought them home.

I feel a certain responsability for their being in this country.  When I took over Gourmet in 1999, I asked Calvin Trillin if there was any place in the world he wanted to go.  "Padron," he immediately replied, "for the peppers. They're not grown here."  

The peppers have a uniquely robust flavor, filling your mouth with a taste I can only describe as "green."  They also hide a surprise; most are merely delicious, but every fifth pepper or so you get one that's hot enough to send shivers down your spine.

Trillin's account of his pepper pilgrimage appeared in the November 1999 issue of Gourmet. It was such a passionate ode that a farmer in New Jersey began growing them. Now he sends a huge pile to Mr. Trillin, who hosts his own little pepper festival each fall. Robert Sietsema does the honors, frying them in a big pot of boiling oil while we stand around the stove, waiting for him to pull the peppers out. He sprinkles them with salt and we all make a grab for them. It's wonderful, messy fun.

I decided to try something a little different. Rather than deep-fry them, I simply slicked a cast iron skillet with olive oil and sauted the pimientos until their skins crinkled up. Then I showered wthem with salt, picked one up by its stem and stuck it in my mouth.

It was a hot one. It was delicious. More please. 






The Taste of Tiny


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I'd never seen such tiny eggplants before, and I couldn't resist them. An inch and a half long, I wondered if they'd have more character than ordinary eggplants, those chameleons of the vegetable world. 

They did! Quartered lengthwise and quickly cooked in a very hot pan with just a bit of olive oil and sliced green garlic, they were like the most delicious French fries I've ever eaten. I showered them with salt, and ate them piping hot, with my fingers. Crisp outside, meltingly soft within, they retained the faint, elusive bitterness of eggplant. But hovering at the edge was a bit of sweetness too. I ate them all, standing at the stove.

And now I'm off to the farm stand to buy some more; they won't be around very long.




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Found elderberries at the farmers' market this morning. Never cooked with them before, but I brought them home and began to contemplate what to do with them.

Washing these tiny berries is a pain - lots of stem, and the berries themselves are no bigger than bb's But they have a wonderful bitterness - think very tart blueberries, or slightly sweeter cranberries - and would probably make an excellent pie. But I have it in mind to make elderberry syrup instead.  

David Lebovitz has what looks like a very fine recipe here, and he has yet to let me down.




Things I Love


Mea Culpa.  Last year, in my annual gift guide, I said that this rare and wonderful organic Monticello Balsamic is something you’d never buy for yourself; it’s just too expensive. But this morning, as I dribbled a single drop onto my sliced apricot, I knew that I was wrong.  This bottle was a present, but when it’s gone I’ll replace it. I never want to be without this remarkable elixir.

This is the way I think about it: it costs $150 a bottle, but if I dole it out, drop by drop, I can make it last a year. And that’s a year of coaxing the flavor out of recalcitrant apricots and berries, of making vegetables sing with flavor, of making every salad dressing deeper, richer, more delicious.  It’s also a year of remembering that American products can now compete with the very best.




Some Pig


My Dinner at Stone Barns

Our taxi from the train station narrowly missed the chicken on the driveway; as he dropped us off at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the driver said cheerily, “I’m going to try and hit that chicken on the way down.  It would make a great dinner for my kids.” From the corner of my eye I could see him contemplating the sheep grazing in the meadow, thinking they’d be pretty tasty too.

They would be great - but reducing the experience that Dan Barber and his crew produce to mere food would be to miss the best part of the evening. This is a restaurant unlike any other I’ve ever been to.

You know all the pertinent parts: the restaurant in the former Rockefeller dairy barn raises a great deal of the food that appears on the plate.  They’ve got greenhouses and fields filled with organically-grown vegetables you’ve never heard of, and their pigs forage for acorns in the woods behind the restaurant. There are cows and sheep and chickens, and the Stone Barns team is so intent on recycling that even the bones are turned into charcoal. Nothing goes to waste.   

The place is as gorgeous as a movie set, with a dream-like quality that sometimes makes you pinch yourself (go look at the website).  The flowers! The candles! The beauty of each plate. And the service is superb in a particularly American way; it’s friendly without being familiar.  

But something else is happening here: there’s a communication between the kitchen and the customer that I’ve not seen anywhere else. There is no menu; you simply put yourself in their hands and the staff intuits your desires.  I doubt that any two tables get the same meal. 

I can’t remember a dinner I’ve liked better than the one I had last night.  It was a progression of tiny courses that paid homage to the season. I left the table, after a five hour meal feeling light and incredibly happy. 

The meal was extremely simple. Most of the courses were tiny vegetables that spoke for themselves. A handful of tiny tomatoes that burst into the mouth.  Baby fennel, strident with anise-flavor, curled into a “plate” made of bark.  Infant leeks, so thin they were barely visible, pulsating with flavor. Tiny beans that looked like threads.  Chinese gooseberries. A single watermelon cucumber the size of a marble. A whole eggplant, charred in the ashes, its creamy white flesh scooped out and served with just-harvested sesame seeds and tomato foam. Cantaloupe simply seared and then distilled into a fragrant drink. Little “tacos” made of turnip that we wrapped around lobster and a trio of fruit and vegetable salsas. The parade of vegetables went on and on, occasionally punctuated with a perfectly cooked egg, a gorgeous little cracker, or the astonishingly fine house-made pepperoncini.

The biggest surprise: pig heart “pastrami” so delicious it would make any offal-hater change her mind.  And the single best piece of bread I’ve had in years: a slice of brioche made with heritage wheat that tasted like no wheat I’ve experienced in my life. Served with seductively delicious just-made ricotta and a savory marmalade, it has given plain old bread, butter and jam something to aspire to.  I will never forget those flavors.

This meal was so much fun to eat; I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at dinner. It led, finally, to a single gorgeous piece of pork - sweet, tender, and just enough. Biting into that rosy meat I felt as if everything that had come before had been a tribute to this animal.

Dessert was wonderful too - peaches with white chocolate, blueberries, and the strawberry cannelloni that’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened. 

It was, for me, a perfect meal.  But I noticed that the people at the next table were eating a completely different dinner; they had more meat, more composed dishes. They seemed every bit as happy as we were. And that’s the main point.  

All through the meal I could sense a silent communication between the front of the house and the back. They were watching what we were eating, figuring out what we liked, adjusting the food.  This is, of course, what you do at home when you cook for your family. But I’ve never before seen that happen in a restaurant.  At Stone Barns you aren’t just paying for a meal, you’re forging a relationship. A relationship so extremely pleasing that all you can think at the end is, “How soon can I come back?”




Corny? Indeed.

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Been reading all these recipes for corn ice cream, which gave me an idea. What if I just took the kernels off the cob, put them in the freezer, and ate them frozen, all by themselves?

Turns out it's a terrifically refreshing snack. Kind of like instant ice cream. If you take really good local corn,  scrape off the kernels just after it's been picked, you end up with something that bears absolutely no relation to the frozen corn in the supermarket. 

And if you really want something that reminds you of ice cream, try pouring a little cream over the frozen kernels. Amazing!






Summer's Most Refreshing Food

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This is gazpacho season.  I like to keep a pitcher in the refrigerator, and pour out a little cupful every time I feel hunger coming on.  It’s refreshing, good for you - and about the easiest thing you can possibly make.  But most of all, it’s completely seasonal; gazpacho is great now, and for about another month. And then its time has passed.

Classic gazpacho is basically just a liquid tomato salad. You take a bunch of very ripe tomatoes and whirl them in a blender with a few compatible vegetables. I generally add onion, cucumber and a small amount of garlic.  Salt and pepper. Some olive oil and a bit of vinegar.  Then you let it rest in the refrigerator, allowing the flavors to get acquainted.  

 When it’s time to eat, you can simply stir and slurp.  Or you can dice up a crunchy vegetable or two -  cucumbers, peppers, carrots - and a leaf of basil, parsley or celery.  If you have leftover pesto, it’s great on top. A few fat homemade bread crumbs, another little dash of olive oil, and you’re ready to be refreshed. 

Vague recipe: 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes (you don’t need to peel them), half an onion, a peeled cucumber, one clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the same amount of good vinegar. Salt and pepper. Blend. Thin with a little water if you like. That’s all there is to it. 

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How to Cook a Perfect Peach

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Just made the peach galette from the Masamoto family’s wonderful book, The Perfect Peach.  I reduced the sugar in their recipe, and while I have to admit that my galette doesn’t look nearly as good as the one their jacket, it smells fantastic and was great fun to make. Can’t wait to serve it for dinner tonight. 

Peach Galette (adapted from The Perfect Peach, which was just published by Ten Speed Press) 

For the pastry

1 cup unbleached flour

1 tablespoon sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup cold butter

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons milk

1 tablespoon cream

sugar for sprinkling


For the filling 

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

pinch of cinnamon

5 or 6 ripe peaches

squeeze of lemon juice


Make the dough by blending the dry ingredients and cutting in the butter.  Then whisk the milk into the egg and mix into the butter and flour mixture.  Form into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for a couple of hours. 

Allow to warm for about 10 minutes, then roll into an 11 inch circle, place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put in the refrigerator to chill while you preheat the oven to 375 and prepare the peaches.

Peel the peaches and slice into 1/4 inch wedges. Toss them with the flour and sugar, squeeze in a bit of lemon juice.

Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator. Leaving 1 1/2 inches on the outside, cover with the peach slices, arranging in a spiraling circle.  Pleat the outer edges of the dough over the peaches and brush the dough with the cream. Sprinkle sugar over the cream and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 50 minutes, until the crust is golden.

Cool on a rack. 


Where to Find a Perfect Peach

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Let's get this out of the way at the beginning: they're expensive.

They're also extremely rare. Finding a perfect peach in modern America is almost impossible. There are whole generations of people who think that peaches are supposed to be crisp and crunch when you take a bite. But these are real peaches: so fragrant their perfume drives you mad. And so soft and juicy you're tempted to climb into the bathtub every time you eat one.

They're also remarkably seasonal: I wait for these all year.

So if you're like me, and you dream of peaches, you'd choose one of these wonderful Frog Hollow peaches over chocolate cake, ice cream - or just about anything else you can name.

And if you're like me, you'll be ordering some from Farmer Al this week. Wait and you'll be out of luck. 




Where to Find a Perfect Peach

Photo (48)

Let's get this out of the way at the beginning: they're expensive.

They're also extremely rare. Finding a perfect peach in modern America is almost impossible. There are whole generations of people who think that peaches are supposed to be crisp and crunch when you take a bite. But these are real peaches: so fragrant their perfume drives you mad. And so soft and juicy you're tempted to climb into the bathtub every time you eat one.

They're also remarkably seasonal: I wait for these all year.

So if you're like me, and you dream of peaches, you'd choose one of these wonderful Frog Hollow peaches over chocolate cake, ice cream - or just about anything else you can name.

And if you're like me, you'll be ordering some from Farmer Al this week. Wait and you'll be out of luck. 


Would you like to throw a stone at me?
Here, take all that’s left of my peach.

Blood-red, deep;
Heaven knows how it came to pass.
Somebody’s pound of flesh rendered up.

Wrinkled with secrets
And hard with the intention to keep them.

Why, from silvery peach-bloom,
From that shallow-silvery wine-glass on a short term
This rolling, dropping heavy globule?

I am thinking, of course, of the peach before I ate it.

Why so velvety, why so voluptuous heavy?
Why hanging with such inordinate weight?
Why so indented?

Why the groove?
Why the lovely, bivalve roundnesses?
Why the ripple down the sphere?
Why the suggestion of incision?

Why was not my peach round and finished like a billiard ball?
It would have been if man had made it.
Though I’ve eaten it now.
But it wasn’t round and finished like a billiard ball.
And because I say so, you would like to throw something at me.

Here, you can have my peach stone.

-Peach, D.H. Lawrence



Things I Love

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I make fresh orange juice for my family every morning. It just tastes so much better when it's freshly squeezed.
I could do it with an electric juicer - I have a very effective Breville. Or I could do it with the classic hand juicer that I also own. But I choose to use this little antique, which I bought at a garage sale for $1 about fifteen years ago, because it starts my morning with a laugh.
Although it sits on my counter looking like a lovely little elephant, this Press-Or Midget Juicer (which was first sold at Hammacher Schlemmer in 1924), is an extremely effective tool. It presses out the juice without the bitter oils. It's fast. It's silent. And it's easy to clean.  It's a reminder that sometimes the simplest tools turn out to be the best.

A press-or midget turned up last week on EBay, and I almost bought it.  But then I looked down at the one I have, and it reminded me that I really don't need another. This one's well over fifty years old, and I'm sure it'll last another fifty. 
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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.