A City Cook Mirepoix
There seems to be a little too much going on right now. Kids are back in school, the new season of music and theater and events has begun, our calendars are filling up, and if you experienced any summer work slow-downs, well that is now over. Then there's all that bad economic news, rising prices and of course, the election. Everyone I know is anxious. Many aren't sleeping well. It's a good time to head to the kitchen.
I don't have any menu solutions for dealing with the world's stress but I do believe there's a comfort that comes from the daily task of buying food and making meals. For years I've used the end-of-the-day ritual of making dinner as a way to shed the day's worries. But lately I've been undoing any benefits by turning on the little television in my kitchen to watch the political pundits as I cook. Watching Chris Matthews can make me throw a chef's knife and pick up another glass of wine.
Finding my focus shortened, I thought that in this week's letter I'd share a mix of odds and ends that have collected on my desk that you may find useful. A kind of information mirepoix, that mix of basic flavors that's at the foundation of so many cuisines.
Tips From Sara Moulton
You knew the Food Network wasn't really interested in cooking when they cancelled Sara Moulton's program. Sara carries Julia Child's DNA having been her assistant; her other chops include being the Executive Chef at "Gourmet." She's warm, authentic, a natural teacher, and manages to combine a great palate with pragmatism. Good news for all of us is that Sara is now doing a program on PBS. In New York, "Sara's Weeknight Meals" is broadcast on WNET on Sundays at 6:00 p.m.
(Also on WNET is the truly dreadful and smug Batali/Bittman series "Spain … On the Road Again" in which Gwyneth Paltrow, while walking in a vineyard, confesses to Mario, "I don't believe in dieting." Why is this on public television?)
Every time I've ever watched one of Sara Moulton's programs I've learned something. Here are two tips from a recent show that were new to me that I thought I should share:
- When substituting dried herbs for fresh, the ratio is one-to-three. Example: use one teaspoon of dried oregano for three teaspoons of minced fresh oregano. That's easy to remember.
- Canned salmon is wild salmon. So if you're being meticulous about where your fish is from and want wild, not farmed salmon, canned is a value-priced alternative. Use canned salmon for making salmon loaf or cakes; include the tiny, soft bones as they'll disintegrate when you cook them and they're a fantastic dietary source of calcium.
I regularly receive emails from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) with news and other publicity information. The other day I received a press release about a study done by faculty at the CIA and the Cornell School of Hotel Management who found that restaurant customers will spent about 8.15% more on meals if no dollar sign proceeds the price on the restaurant's menu. It was found that menus "without an overt reference to money" led to an increase in average spending. It didn't matter if the menu used the word "dollars" or the "$" sign. The study's authors recommended that restaurants drop any reference to money on the menu as a way to increase sales, calling it a "typographical strategy for the menu."
I respect restaurants' needs to operate as profitable businesses, but I found this -- and its advocacy as a way to get customers to spend more money -- an insult to us all. Another reason to cook at home.
Amanda Hesser's Challah Recipes
We're midway between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In last Sunday's New York Times Magazine the wonderful Amanda Hesser did an article about making challah, the traditional egg bread that is eaten both at holiday meals and also at the weekly Sabbath dinner. Challah was the first bread I ever learned to make using a family recipe given to me by my first college roommate. I love this fragrant, delicate bread when it's still warm from the oven, toasted as an alternative to the far richer French brioche, and of course, as the main ingredient in French toast. In her article Hesser shares two recipes, one from 1976 that Craig Claiborne got from a friend in Bensonhurst, and the other, an updated version that an artisanal baker in Massachusetts did for Hesser.
I've added the link to Hesser's article so you can claim these recipes for yourself. It's one of the best food articles in the Times' Magazine in a long time and a keeper. We've added the link below.
What's in the Greenmarkets
Early October is still prime time for Greenmarket shopping. Here's what's still plentiful at most markets:
- Apples. New York is apple country and the markets are full of both familiar varieties and heirloom apples. Despite all the recent glamour given to heirloom tomatoes, I've found most of them tasteless but heirloom apples are a different story. A year ago we offered some ideas about what to do with the bounty of apple season and the ideas still hold. On the left of the screen we've added a link to our piece, "What's in Season: Apples."
- Onions. Adding a locally grown, in-season onion to a familiar recipe can make a notable difference so buy extras for routine cooking, salads, or onion-centered dishes like caramelized onions with steak or onion soup. I don't have the luxury of a cold pantry or lots of kitchen storage so what I do is keep a large bowl (mine is plain white French porcelain) on my small counter and keep it filled with onions, garlic, shallots and knobs of ginger. At room temperature they stay for weeks whereas in my refrigerator they'd get soft and lose their flavor faster.
- Potatoes. The difference in taste between a locally grown, recently unearthed potato and one bought at the grocery store is remarkable. My favorite way to cook Greenmarket potatoes is to scrub them, leave unpeeled, add a slight slick of olive oil and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, and scatter on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 375 F for about 45 minutes. If you have fresh herbs on hand, especially rosemary or sage or oregano, chop them into a fine mince, adding a generous pinch along with the salt and pepper. I try to buy small potatoes, but if I've bought larger ones, I cut them into large chunks of equal size so that they cook at the same pace. Every ten minutes or so give them a shake (maybe helped with the edge of a spatula) so that each surface gets golden brown. Cook until they're tender.
I also love to cut the potatoes into small half-inch cubes, roast them this same way, and then scatter into a simple green salad as if they're crutons. Feeling sybaritic? Use duck fat instead of olive oil.
- Fall Vegetables. Beets, squash, peppers and eggplants are bountiful. If you haven't made ratatouille in a while, this is a perfect time of year to do so. There are many recipes but the ones I like best cook each vegetable (tomato, eggplant, onion, zucchini, red peppers) separately and then combine at the end so that you get the collection of flavors yet also that of each vegetable. See our recipe; there's a link on the left side of the screen.
Lots of new food books are being published this fall. We've got some reviews of new titles coming up (as usual, I'm first testing some recipes), but if you're browsing at your local Barnes & Noble or at Amazon, here are three to take a look at:
-- Not Your Mother's Weeknight Cooking. By Beth Hensperger (Harvard Common Press, $14.95, paperback with color photographs, 310 pages). This book really deserves a better title as it's a terrific collection of about 150 main course recipes: fish, poultry, meat, pasta and grains, soup, eggs, main-dish salads and sandwiches/burgers/pizza. There's a global influence, shortcuts without processed foods, and lots of great ideas that can be made on a budget.
-- Amarcord: Marcella Remembers. By Marcella Hazan (Gotham, $27.50, hardcover). Not a cookbook but a memoir by the much loved, now-84-year-old Italian cookbook author and teacher.
-- A16 Food + Wine. By Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren, with Kate Leahy (Ten Speed Press, $35.00, hardcover with color photographs, 288 pages), from the people who run a famed San Francisco restaurant by the same name (which is also the name of a highway that runs through southern Italy). This book focuses on the food and wine of southern Italy: Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia. The book is splendid if only for its first half -- about the often overlooked, fabulously delicious and value-priced wines of these regions. But the recipes for antipasti, pizza, zuppa, pasta, seafood, poultry, "the pig," vegetables and desserts are also terrific, written for a home cook, and made with big flavors. Because the book is named for a restaurant that folks outside of San Francisco may not know, you may overlook A16 Food + Wine. If you are interested in the cuisine of southern Italy, you may like this book very much.
On The Prairie and In Brooklyn
Two other items: If you haven't yet visited Ree Drummond's web site, ThePioneerWoman.com, I'm pleased to introduce you. Even if you are, like me, a true city person, this site has terrific recipes and a spirited and fun voice. I love her recipe for Crash Hot Potatoes.
Finally, for you Brooklyn folks who are part of the Trader Joe's cult, the boro's first store opened last week in Carroll Gardens, on the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue.