Mirepoix -- From the French, a mix of aromatics that provide the savory foundation of a recipe. From The City Cook, a periodic report on things that have been collecting on my desk.
City Cooking in the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest has some of the best food in America. Its home cooks have long been committed to finding the best ingredients, cooking eclectic and ethnic flavors, as well as protecting the environment. There's much to envy.
For example, Seattle is home to PCC Natural Markets, the country's largest food coop with 9 stores and nearly 40,000 members. It's also where the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods oversees "P-Patch Community Gardens," 1,900 small gardens on 23 acres of city land rented annually to city residents ($34 per year for 100 square feet up to $67 for 400 square feet). The program is named for Picardo Farm, which in the early-1970's launched the program when it lent a plot of land to the city.
These civic gardens also produce tons of fresh produce for Seattle's food banks and other feeding programs. Seattle is the kind of place where residents convert their front lawns into rows of vegetables and plots for fruit trees, where neighborhood block parties feature just-baked cobblers, and where Mario Batali's father decided to open his "Salumi," producers of superb Italian cured meats.
Portland also has a rich food culture and its daily newspaper, The Oregonian, recently launched a new online version of its food magazine, MIX. I like its stylish enthusiasm for sophisticated but accessible home cooking and while Portland's restaurants are certainly featured, unlike most newspaper food sections, MIX doesn't make home cooking a distant afterthought. Its editor is Martha Holmberg, whose recent book, Puff, we love.
I think it's notable that MIX was launched -- in both print and online versions -- just as Gourmet was about to go out of business. While I was initially stunned by the news of its closing, the fact of it wasn't really surprising. I will miss the legacy of Gourmet -- but I had already been missing it. For the past few years, every time my renewal notice came in the mail I would hesitate before writing the check. Its editorial content seemed confused and out of touch with how people really cook and eat, and its covers seemed increasingly hijacked by art directors who never stepped into a kitchen. Inside the magazine it was harder and harder to differentiate between advertorial and original content, and the vision of the magazine had become shallow.
I used to love how Gourmet managed to be simultaneously aspirational and within reach. But that magazine closed a long time ago.
A Big Answer
Some things in food seem destined to remain mysteries: the chicken/egg thing, the size of Sandra Lee's kitchen décor budget, and why chocolate has no calories if you eat it standing up.
But one question is easy to answer, thanks to the meticulous work done by the folks at America's Test Kitchens: what is the difference between stock and broth? Bones are included in the making of stock. They are not in broth.
Anyone who has been a member of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) knows the pleasures and challenges of cooking from a farm share. The majority of CSAs take place during the summer and fall but some farms also sell winter CSAs. Depending on the climate where you live, a winter CSA will offer you dairy, eggs, poultry, and some winter produce.
If you're interested in exploring a winter CSA and you live in the New York City area, visit JustFood.org to find a CSA in your neighborhood (some, not all, offer winter shares) . If you live anywhere else in the country, visit LocalHarvest.org, one of the best sources on the Internet for information about coops, organic food, community gardening, and much more.
Your Turn to Cook?
Thanksgiving is only two weeks from today and if it's your turn to cook, it's not too early to order your turkey. You may also want to check with your butcher as to when the birds are actually slaughtered.
According to Jake Dickson of Dickson Farmstand Meats, "There is a loophole in the 'fresh' meat business for turkeys -- a turkey can be kept brined and at 26 degrees and still sold as a 'fresh' (never frozen) product in our country; and a turkey held between 0 and 26 degrees (which is a frozen turkey) and then thawed does not need to be labeled as previously frozen. That thanksgiving turkey you pick up at the local supermarket could be 6 months old!"
Good butchers always know the source and handling of what's they sell and will welcome your questions. If they don't, you probably should buy your turkey somewhere else.
One more update on the continuing question of avoiding pine nuts from China due to their bitter metallic taste. I've continued to get questions from readers about where to buy ones harvested elsewhere and as of now I've identified three sources (see our links to the two New York City stores but all sell online):
- Zabar's -- pine nuts from Spain
- Kalustyan's -- pine nuts from Lebanon
- NutsOnLine.com -- pine nuts from Spain, Italy and Portugal