Introducing The New City Cook
Updated, Mobile-Friendly, and Still Cooking
What a difference eight years make.
When I launched The City Cook on February 9, 2007, who could foresee the changes that would occur in the food world and social media? The City Cook was a bit of a pioneer but now eight years later, there are an estimated two million food blogs. They're not all about home cooking. Many are about restaurants, or are embedded in the websites of food companies and merchants, or were created with great ambition only to be soon abandoned when it's learned how much work a blog requires (see the New Yorker's wry comment on this). A recipe aggregator called "Very Good Recipes" recently calculated that there are about 10,000 active cooking blogs. A far cry from two million but still -- that's a lot of cooking, story telling, and close-ups of last night's dinner.
During this blog-mageddon era, restaurants also changed, becoming temples of locavore-slow-food-vegan-farm-to-table-molecular-gastronomy-kale-obsessed-tasting-menus-small-plates-cronut-gluten-free-artisanal-food-truck-craft-beer-unami-amaranth-sriracha-micro-greens. What chefs used to manage, now they curate. Restaurant eating has become such a documented competitive sport for a generation that came of age during this time that it's not hard to believe that some younger urban diners aren't literally eating their savings accounts.
These restaurant changes have had, to my thinking, an unexpected negative impact on urban home cooking. When I started The City Cook, if someone didn't cook it was usually because they A) didn't know how, and/or B) thought they were too busy to do anything but eat take-out. Now it seems many don't cook because it doesn't satisfy the appetite for meals as a lifestyle event.
Over the past eight years, personal technology was also transformed. When The City Cook launched, we didn't have to worry about how it would look on a tablet or smart phone. Graphics and font sizes could be subtle. Photos weren't essential, which was fine with me since I always preferred to write than to take photos. I've long left my camera easily accessible on my kitchen counter but inevitably ended up pushing it out of the way instead of shooting what I cook.
And then there's social media. Neither Twitter nor Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook existed when I first began to write about my wish to help city folks put daily cooking into our lives.
Despite all these changes, The City Cook trudged on. Today there are thousands of you who kindly accept my letters into your mailboxes; another many tens of thousands of you visit the website every month. I'm grateful that we have this communion about home cooking. And I simply love having a place to share my writing and be an outlet for what I do every day, which is to make dinner.
Still, it became clear that it was time to give The City Cook a face lift.
Working with my genius colleagues at Animus Rex, this is what we've done.
First, we've eliminated our grocer database. We learned that you preferred information about individual food merchants rather than a searchable function.
Second, we've kept our practice of not having reader comments. I have always resisted comments because they must be moderated and I'd rather spend my time cooking and writing. But the primary reason is that the web can be toxic (Reddit, anyone?) and life is just too short to be exposed to all that anonymous vitriol. The little that has already been sent to me has been sickening so why would I make it easier to get more. I know that The City Cook's traffic stats and visibility would be higher with comments than without, but it's my website and I choose decency over popularity.
Third, we've fixed the architecture of the site so that it's friendly to mobile devices. If you're reading this on your smart phone or tablet, you already know that.
Fourth, photography. Most of the photos that were taken over the past eight years were smaller than what the new site displays. We're replacing and upgrading the photos but for a while you'll still see our placeholder graphic or sometimes a picture that is short on pixels and thus may read a bit out of focus. Be patient with us as we're fixing more than 1,000 documents.
Finally, we've learned a lot from you over the past eight years. So we'll be writing more about kitchen tools, food industry news, how to buy and cook seasonally, and which new cookbooks are worth a look. We'll still have recipes, including ones by other practiced cooks, but many of those 10,000 food blogs are recipe-centric and we think we can do other things those blogs and the national cooking magazines can't. Our new categories are listed at the top of the home page.
We've just gone live and there might be a bug or two. If you see something that seems wrong, please send me a note through the comment page. And I'd really love any feedback or requests or criticisms. I'm so close to it all I'm sure I've missed something and I welcome your thoughts.
A Winning Summer For Peaches
It's been a superb summer for local peaches. Those of us living in the northeast seem to be enjoying some of the best peaches in years. Sliced into yogurt or on waffles, piled between biscuits and whipped cream for a peach shortcake, topped with a custard or a sugared crumble to become a clafoutis or kuchen or crisp, grilled with bacon, baked into muffins, added to a tomato gazpacho, or just eaten by hand -- peaches are a summer gift.
I recently made a peach tart using a recipe by Amanda Hesser at Food52. What appealed to me about the recipe was its dough: it's made with oil, mixed in a bowl, and pressed into the tart pan with no rolling pin necessary. That meant that on a hot day, when I knew a conventional pie dough would melt in my hands and get tough, this dough would be resilient and successful. And I was right. Plus for those of you who are afraid of pie dough, this is more like a cookie dough, which is also what it tastes like once it's baked: crispy, crumbly, rather like a thin shortbread than a flaky pie crust.
Amanda Hesser credits the recipe to her mother who makes the dough with vegetable oil and peels the peaches; the daughter uses half olive oil and leaves the peaches with their skin. I took mom's method, using canola oil for its bland flavor (and lower price than my olive oil), and I peeled the peaches for the aesthetics.
This recipe is bullet proof. You'll need an 11-inch tart pan or you could use a smaller one or a pie plate, about five ripe peaches (but not so ripe as to be mush; you want the slices to hold their shape), and almond extract which adds a subtle flavor to the pastry.
Summer Peach Tart
Adapted from Food52.com
1-1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons whole milk or half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
Pinch of cinnamon
3 to 5 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and thickly sliced (about 3/4-inch wide)
- Preheat the oven to 425° F degrees. In a mixing bowl, use a fork to stir together 1-1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, milk or half-and-half, and almond extract. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and mix gently with a fork, just enough to dampen and turn it into a mix of big soft crumbs; do not over work it.
- Transfer the dough to an 11-inch tart pan, and working quickly so that you don't warm up the mixture, use your hands to pat out the dough so it covers the bottom of the pan, pushing it up the sides to meet the edge. You can use a flat-bottomed measuring cup to help even out the dough in the pan. It should be about 1/ 8-inch thick all around.
- In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, a pinch of ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and the butter. (If your peaches are especially juicy, add 1 tablespoon additional flour.) Using your fingers, pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly.
- Starting on the outside, arrange the peaches overlapping in a concentric circle over the pastry, filling in the center at the end. The peaches should fit snugly and cover the surface of the pan.
- Sprinkle the sugar and butter mixture evenly over the top.
- Place the tart pan on a rimmed sheet pan (this is in case the tart pan leaks or bubbles over; mine did).
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until shiny, thick bubbles begin enveloping the fruit and the crust is slightly brown. Cool on a rack. If you've used a tart pan with a removable rim, let it cool almost completely before removing the tart.
- Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably with vanilla ice cream.
Thank you for being a part of The City Cook and most of all, for taking this cooking journey with me.
Editor, The CityCook.com