Journal entries from November 2014

2014 Gift Guide, Day Seven


Sensible Seeds

Farm to table is so last year; the new movement is seed to table. If you really care about where your food comes from, you start at the beginning, with soil and seeds.

For most of human history, farmers raised regional plants adapted to the local soil and climate.  The idea that we can all grow anything, anywhere, is a completely modern notion - and one that makes very little sense.  Organic gardeners are beginning to understand that the sensible course is to plant seeds bred to thrive where they are planted. 

Enter Fruition Seeds. These are organically grown open pollinated seeds raised in the northeast and intended for northeast gardeners.  

So if you're trying to think of a great gift for a passionate gardener in the cold northeastern climate, you'd have a hard time coming up with a  better present.  There are lots of possibilities - from single seed packets to special collections for picklers or people interested in medicinal herbs. There are salsa and salad collections, and this lovely group of seeds to kickstart an organic kitchen garden.  




2014 Gift Guide: Day Six

Index.5 Index.4

A Wood for the Wise

People who obsess about barbecue are in a class by themselves.  Blessed with patience, they spend endless hours standing by slow fires, waiting for meat to soak up the fine scent of smoke.  They worry about every detail along the way, but their two main concerns are meat and wood.  

Great barbecue demands smoke - and smoke demands wood.  Not just any wood. Wood that burns clean. Wood that burns slow. Wood with character. Wood with flavor.

The most obsessive pitmasters I know order their hickory, pecan and mesquite  from Gourmet Wood in Texas.  The wood is dried so it burns low and slow. It comes in chunks or logs - and makes a very affordable gift. (A carton is $43.95 delivered.)

If you know someone who loves slow-smoking meat, they will be extremely grateful for this gift.  Not just for the wood itself - but for an introduction to such a great source. If you're lucky, they'll invite you over to taste your share of this smoke.  

(Care to call? The phone number is 1-888- GET-WOOD.) 




2014 Gift Guide, Day Five


The barbecue expert was skeptical when I told him I'd ordered the pulled pork online.  Even when I said that is came from Elizabeth Karmel, who was responsible for some of the food at Hill County, he lifted an eyebrow.  "She's a baker," he said.  "Makes great peanutbutter and jelly cupcakes. But 'cue... maybe not so much."

Then I mentioned it was whole hog barbecue, made from pigs from a small farmer in North Carolina. I mentioned Ed Mitchell, one of my barbecue heroes. The expert was not convinced.

"Just taste it," I said, piling some of the warm pulled pork - bits from all over the pig - onto a potato bun, adding the vinegary cabbage slaw, shaking on another bit of the thin, piquant sauce - and handing it over.

"Oh!" he said.  And then he didn't say anything else until the sandwich was gone.  

This is the best Carolina cue I've had in a really long time.  It come frozen - in dry ice - in impeccable condition; the shredded cabbage is packed separately, as is the bottle of vinegar sauce. 

I bought the "The Piglet" - which is meant to make 8  sandwiches.  Actually, it made more like a dozen. If you have some barbecue lovers on your list, I promise you they'll be happy to get some of this.



2015 Gift Guide, Day Four


Steam Me Up

This traditional Japanese rice pot somehow makes rice taste better.  And it goes easily from the stove to the table, where it sits looking serenely ceramic and incredibly lovely.

But that's not why I love  it so much. These days I find myself steaming foods  - from vegetables to seafood to dumplings - with increasing frequency. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a great steamer? Like most steaming enthusiasts I've got a cupboard filled with bamboo steamers, and I like them fine.  They're useful. They're cheap. But they take up a lot of space and they're nearly impossible to clean.

If you have a conscientious eater on your list, someone who’s low on time and eager to steam, check out this beautiful rice cooker from Shed. It’s not cheap ($180), but its a truly beautiful object, a little piece of kitchen sculpture.  And it's incredibly easy to clean.



2014 Gift Guide, Day Three


Truly Fabulous Fruitcake

I know, I know - everybody hates fruitcake.

But not this one. Baked to order of locally sourced all-organic ingredients, this is the fruitcake you've always longed for.  No red and green cherries - just lots of great dried fruit and nuts (it weighs two and a half pounds.)

Robin McKay first made these fruitcakes for her partners' English family.  This year, for the first time, she's been persuaded to make more for her friends.

Order now, from and you'll have fruitcake in time for Christmas. You won't be sorry.



2014 Gift Guide, Day Two


One Great Apron

If you're going to wear an apron, it should do more than simply look good. The Contra Apron, does. Made of waxed cotton, it's heavy, water-resistent, comes in three colors and has a pocket exactly where you want one.  

Looks pretty good too!

Tilit makes aprons for all the coolest restaurants (Blue Hill, Empellon, Shuko, Hungry Cat, M. Wells, Bar Primi - the list is very long).  This apron was designed for the staff at Contra, and it's made to look good no matter what disaster befalls you in the kitchen.  It's just part of the line of kitchen clothing, which includes aprons, chef's jackets and pants. Give the company enough time and they'll even customize aprons to your exact specifications. 



2014 Gift Guide: Day One


This year, it seems, everyone is in a pickle: fermentation is all the rage.

But the truth is, pickles are pretty easy.  Sauerkraut, on the other hand, presents a challenge. You need to weight the cabbage down, a trick most home-fermenters accomplish by jerry-rigging a tippy tower of bowls. There’s also the problem of finding the right vessel: even a small jar of kraut requires you to start with something bigger (and heavier) than a milk jug. 

That's why I think so highly of these fermentation crocks. If you have a true food warrior on your list, you can be pretty sure they're dabbling with pickles.  And any home pickler would be thrilled to find one of these beautiful crocks from Mudslide Stoneware sitting beneath the tree. They come in various sizes and colors, each one fitted with ceramic weights. (And if your friend's not into pickling, they work really well for yogurt.) 


Pretty (Easy) in Pink


One of my favorite party foods is muhammara, the dip made of red peppers, walnuts, garlic and pomegranate molasses. Much as I love the sweet and sour flavor, it's the color, I think, that most appeals to me; having something so flashy and sassy sitting on my counter always makes me happy.

So when I saw the recipe for David Leibowitz's beet hummus it stopped me cold; the color is so similar.  Why, I thought, didn't I think of that?

David's recipe is really simple - and really good for you.  It's almost half beets.  Garlic and lemon kick in a little punch. And right behind that is the seductive tanginess of pomegranate molasses.

Thanks, David, great idea. 

Beet Hummus
From David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen

12 ounces cooked, peeled and diced red beets 
2/3 cup cooked, drained chickpeas (use canned chickpeas if you like)
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
6 tablespoons tahini (buy the best that you can; some brands are awful)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more if you feel like it
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 
generous pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked chile powder (I used urfa pepper)
1½ tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whirl it around until it's nearly smooth. Dip in a finger and adjust salt or lemon to your own taste. That's it.

This will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.  David says it keeps in the freezer for up to 6 months; not sure I'd try keeping it that long.



Such an Easy Appetizer



Made a mushroom tart the other day that was so easy - and so delicious - I thought I’d pass the recipe on.

Saute 3 minced shallots in a tablespoon of butter. When the fragrance begins to rise from the pan, add 12 ounces or so of ordinary mushrooms and saute until they’ve surrendered all their juices. Keep cooking until the liquid has evaporated.  (At medium heat this will take 20 to 30 minutes.)  Add salt and pepper, then a good slug of cream sherry, and cook, stirring, until the sherry has cooked away.  Set aside to cool. 

Preheat the oven to 400. 

Plunk a package of defrosted frozen puff pastry (I use Dufour) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spread 12 ounces of well-drained ricotta (I like Bellweather Farms basket ricotta, which is pre-drained), across the pastry, then cover it with the mushrooms.  Grate a small blizzard of parmesan cheese across the top and put it into the oven for about 25 minutes.

This will serve 8 people as a cocktail snack.







Dirty French


Dirty French is a frustrating restaurant.  The staff is so lovely you worry they’ve all been indoctrinated into some new cult of niceness you have yet to hear about. They smile. They banter. They enthuse about the food and wine. And they’re determined to make sure you have a good time.

If you order the right things, you definitely will.   

Start with the "millefeuille" pictured above. It’s a brilliant dish.  When it arrives you think it's layers and layers of flakey, buttery pastry. Touch it with your fork and you continue to be fooled: the outside is that crisp.  Only when you have taken a bite, and your mouth has flooded with the flavor of mushrooms do you understand the trickery.  This is pure thinly shaved mushroom - layers and layers of the cool fungus, buttered and shaped inside in a mold. 


But what’s even smarter is that this imitation of a French pastry is served with a Thai green curry so intense it plays with your head. You don’t know where in the world you are.  But you do know that this is fabulous food from a talented chef.

 Go on to the “duck a l’orange” and you’ll be even happier.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a duck as delicious as this one, the skin crisp, the meat dense and rich, with a thrillingly meaty flavor. The hint of orange, of spice, is a nice touch, but this is duck so wonderful you gladly eat it naked. 

Finish up with the beignets - which are really closer to zeppole than anything invented in France, and you will go floating out the door. 


There are other impressive dishes here as well.  The flatbread  that begins the meal is warm, fragrant and floppy, served with soft, seductive sheep’s milk cheese. The oyster show is a little hokey - the servers stand there explaining each of the offerings - but the oysters themselves are cold, crisp, filled with clear briny liquor.  The frisee aux lardons, which comes with a skewer of blazing gizzards and a perfectly poached egg, would pretty much make a meal. 


But you could easily order a meal that leaves you scratching your head. I’ve rarely met a clam I didn’t like, but the clams almondine came close. A take on clams casino, the warm chewy clams were smothered in the awkward embrace of some nuts.  They were not happy there. 

The lamb carpaccio is soft and pleasant, but the flavor of the lamb vanishes beneath the blizzard of spices.  


And that chicken and crepes.... Served for two (although it would probably feed four, mitigating its $72 price), arrives in two services. The first is a sizzling pot of gorgeously tender breast swimming in deliciously mustardy fat (is that foie gras in there?) The chicken is tender, like velvet in the mouth, but the point of wrapping it in the few mingy little crepes kind of gets lost. There are so few crepes - and they don’t do the chicken any favors.   

Then the dark meat arrives: it is crisped, infused with Asian spices.  You taste fish sauce and lemongrass, and then you stop thinking altogether and just tear into the meat. This is about as good as chicken gets.  You could wrap it in those crepes, I suppose, for a kind of Peking Chicken. But the crepes are gone by now, and anyway, the chicken is so damn delicious on its own.

But the brook trout?  Despite the ornate topping, fairly boring. 


The bouilliabaisse?  Spicy, dark, with a fine broth and the felicitious addition of octopus.  Still, it struck me as rather polite, compared to the raucous effect of the better dishes.  

But it's early days, and this is a restaurant with such exciting potential I find myself longing to go back, to see what the chefs are up to, how the dishes are developing. The Torrisi boys (Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi) are tackling French tradition in the same way they took on Italian American food: with talent, intelligence and imagination.  They're looking back while moving forward. 



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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.