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.
The City Cook just celebrated its 4th anniversary. This is remarkable to me, not because time flies, which it does. But because when I created this website as a place to muse about the challenges and pleasure of cooking in small city kitchens, I never thought I'd have enough to write about to fill four years' worth of regular newsletters and postings. But cooking and eating is both essential and endlessly compelling and in the 200-plus newsletters I've written, there's never been a shortage of topics.
And there still isn't. For the coming weeks I'm working on pieces about verjus, citrus curds, gratins, salt cod, and much more as we cook through this winter and look forward to spring.
But for now, just a few odds and ends that you might find interesting.
You may not have the time to explore cooking websites as often as I do, and with that in mind I wanted to flag two that you may want to bookmark.
First, if you're like me and are still missing Gourmet magazine (and still harboring a certain low-grade pissed-off resentment that its caretakers wrecked it), you might want to take a look at Saveur and its website, Saveur.com. Saveur has developed into an excellent resource for both cooking and travel, and their special issues are worth saving; for example, last year they did issues about Greek and Roman food, both eaten there and cooked here, as well as a superb guide to the world's best food markets, including New York's own Essex Street Market.
My second suggestion is Food52.com. Created by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs who are practiced and published food writers and home cooks, Food52.com is a community of home cooks and a place to share both joy and excellence in home cooking. A cookbook is soon to emerge from all this (there's more about this at their site) but cookbook or not, here is where you can find honesty about the challenges and pleasures of home cooking, great sources for ingredients and kitchen stuff, and also truly wonderful and hardcore-tested recipes, like their Tuscan Chicken Liver Paté which can make you weep with pleasure for the eating. We've added a link below.
"This is part of how they describe their mission:"We think cooking is really important — especially now. Over the past decade, many studies and books have shown that children from families who eat together do better in school, that eating "whole" foods is healthier, that eating sustainably will save the environment. But no one has pointed out that the only way to achieve all this in a comprehensive, lasting way is for people to cook.
• If you cook, your family will eat dinner together.
• If you cook, you will naturally have a more sustainable household.
• If you cook, you'll set a lifelong example for your children.
• If you cook, you'll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
• If you cook, you'll make your home an important place in your life.
• If you cook, you'll make others happy.
• If you cook, people will remember you."
Food Politics and Economics
Food prices are rising and it has both geopolitical and humanitarian impacts. If you've been following the extraordinary events in Egypt, the press coverage has included the factors contributing to the uprising, including the shocking percentage of income that Egyptians spend on food. It's a multiple of what we spend here in the U.S., but unfortunately, very similar to the 30 to 40-plus percentages of incomes spent on basic food in many countries around the world. The causes are complex and a mix of politics, regulations, corruption, climate change and extreme weather, and the world's poor are suffering the most.
Closer to home, rising food prices add to the burden already carried by many households for whom government and charity-provided programs like food stamps and food pantries are the only safety nets. For the rest of us who are lucky enough to not need such safety nets, there's a creeping rise in our grocery bills as commodities like wheat, oil, sugar and corn cost more, which in turn leads to more expensive milk, meat, bread, eggs and other basic ingredients. In recent weeks as I make my regular rounds to grocery stores and specialty markets, rising prices are a topic for lively grocery aisle conversation. We're noticing and it's not easy.
I certainly have no answers for this complicated problem. As for what each of us can do in response, I can only share with you what I do: make best use of my freezer by buying extra favorites when they're on sale; use less expensive cuts of meat and fish; buy rice and grains in the bulk food departments; purchase store brands when pedigree doesn't matter (like canned garbanzo beans); try to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season (they're not just cheaper but taste better); eat more vegetarian meals; and I commit my splurges to where they can make a flavor difference, like San Marzano DOC canned tomatoes, and organic milk, and small bottles of better olive oil for finishing a dish, using the least expensive extra virgin olive oil I can find for sautéing and salad dressings when the other ingredients will mask any subtle flavor differences.
And I shop around: while grocery shopping can be very time-consuming, by having a meal plan and a shopping list means that over the course of a week, I will have typically shopped in five different markets, buying something different at each of them depending where something is cheapest.
If you want to know more about how our supermarkets are operated as businesses, their relationships with food producers/manufacturers, and how technology is changing the supermarket experience, at 9:00 pm ET on February 10 (plus Feb 13 and 21, 2011) CNBC is re-airing a special called "Supermarkets Inc: Inside A $500 Billion Money Machine."
In a recent episode of "The Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten was making meatloaf and she used Japanese panko instead of conventional breadcrumbs. That's not so remarkable because many of us substitute panko crumbs for those made from bread or crackers. But in this recipe, from a popular Hamptons restaurant, the panko is pulverized into fine crumbs and then added to the meatloaf mixture. Ina pointed out that if you use a food processor to turn the coarse panko into a fine crumb, its density will increase, meaning a cup of panko has less volume than a cup of ground panko. In a recipe like the meatloaf, this means you'd use less finely ground panko than if it were left whole.
I love the idea of grinding panko into fine crumbs for two reasons. One, it means I only need to keep panko on hand, not panko plus a container of fine breadcrumbs (which I use rarely but still keep for a couple of favorite recipes); one less pantry item saves space. And two, I like how panko has almost no taste, which makes it a better choice than the dull-flavored store-bought breadcrumbs. Thanks, Ina.
A couple of New York's popular stores have news. The much-loved Blue Apron Foods in Brooklyn's Park Slope is now open on Mondays from 11 am to 6 pm. There's no longer any day off for Alan Palmer and Ted Matern, the wonderful owners of this specialty market with its superb charcuterie and cheese selections, plus its important support for Brooklyn-made foods.
And Jacques Torres, with whom we recently did a podcast interview, has opened a new shop in midtown Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. Just in time for Valentine's Day.
Cold weather cooking remains so very appealing and comforting and what's better than having a pot of soup on the stove? But some of our favorites take lots of time or lots of fussing. We've added a recipe for a satisfying Zucchini and Tomato Soup With Arborio Rice that comes completely together with about 30 minutes of cooking and if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, it's vegetarian; leave out the grated Parmesan and it's vegan. If you make the soup the day before, the rice will continue to absorb the liquid, turning the soup into something that is more like risotto.
And in case you missed it, February 5th was World Nutella Day. So go buy yourself a jar and a loaf of bread and knock yourself out.