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.
Food Blog and Web Update
For those of you in New York City who are regular Greenmarket shoppers, a new website has been launched that could be exceedingly useful as winter comes to an end and spring promises to arrive. WhatIsFresh.com is a well-designed and organized database of information about the NYC Greenmarkets in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can search by individual markets, by favorite vendor, or by the products you're looking to buy.
What Is Fresh is much more shopper-friendly than the New York City official Greenmarket site, although not every vendor has yet completed the free listing that the site offers to them. Bookmark this site along with Lucy's Greenmarket Report and it will be much easier to make your Greenmarket shopping list. Now all we need is some warm weather and a good growing season.
Two other web notes. I was recently introduced to a charming blog called BobbyJayOnFood.com. Bobby Jay is in fact a retired New York attorney who is living the fantasy that many of us have -- to live in Paris, shop the markets, and cook. He also explores Parisian restaurants and gives almost equal time to his market explorations in New York City. So if you're like me and hearing the nostalgic cinematic words, "we'll always have Paris," makes you hungry, you will enjoy Bobby Jay On Food.
Finally, Cathy Erway's wonderful blog, Not Eating Out In New York has inspired and produced a book that is a combination of memoir, cookbook and cultural adventure into what's often described as the underground of New York's food world. The Art of Eating In (hardcover, $24.00, Gotham) chronicles Cathy's swearing off restaurants for two years -- a self-mandated challenge that had some unexpected results.
- When we recently did our podcast interview with cookbook author and food expert Arthur Schwartz he made an offhand comment that I thought was extremely useful. It pertained to buying canned tomatoes. I had asked him about San Marzano tomatoes and after confirming that he thought them to be the best canned tomatoes to buy, he added that regardless what his recipe calls for, he only ever bought whole plum tomatoes. Not diced. Not puréed. Why? He said that any tomato farmer and canner would use the best tomatoes for those to be canned whole. If tomatoes are bruised or otherwise not so good, they'd instead be diced or puréed. So he buys them whole and then dices or crushes or purées them himself. Excellent advice!
- Speaking of San Marzano tomatoes -- if when shopping for tomatoes you come across cans that have a charming hand-drawn white label and branded "San Marzano," be aware. These are not from San Marzano but merely branded as such. Read the label. The fine print says that the company is European but the tomatoes are not. In fact, the one time I bought them I found the tomatoes to be small, pale, mealy and watery. Plus they're premium priced. If you can't find authentic San Marzano tomatoes (again, read the label -- the tomatoes themselves will be declared as from Italy), buy Muir Glen or if you're at Whole Foods, their 365 house brand canned tomatoes are quite good and value priced.
- Tasting while you cook is a habit many home cooks don't have. It doesn't help that when we watch chefs on TV it's rare to see someone taste mid-cooking. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's not so telegenic to watch so the step is omitted. But if you spend any time in a professional kitchen you'll see a chef with either a vest pocket full of teaspoons for tasting, or else there will be a bin of clean spoons mid-counter for the same use. Flavors change while they cook, spices need to be adjusted, salt should be added. Or not. But if you don't taste along the way, you'll never know and if you take your first bite after you're at the dinner table, it's too late. It's another example of the small things we can do to move our cooking from being good to great.
American Cheese. Not Sliced and Plastic-Wrapped.
Lucy's Whey is a new cheese shop in Chelsea Market (425 W. 15th Street at 9th Avenue in Manhattan, 212-463-9500) specializing in American-made artisanal cheeses. They share an area mid-market with a new Jacques Torres Chocolate outpost and a small retail shop from online merchant and wholesaler, The Nut Box.
The shop has been opened by Lucy Kazickas whose first shop was opened about three years ago in East Hampton, New York. The selection is small but carefully chosen and the shopkeepers have relationships with the producers so they know how each cheese is made and kept. It's an excellent addition to the New York cheesemonger scene.
I'll end this newsletter with some news and that is that The City Cook is being turned into a book. It will be published by Simon & Schuster in November and will be a combination of urban cheerleading, grocery guidance, and cookbook with about 90 new recipes. The manuscript is done and we're now in production and I will share more information once details are finalized.
Being able to write this book is a dream coming true -- plus it's proof that you should never give up on having dreams. I also know this only happened because of readers like you who give me my inspiration and motivation. I am most very grateful.