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.
I'm about to check something off that bucket list that so many of us carry around with us. My list has evolved and been revised over the years as things that were once aspirations no longer are, only to be replaced by others. But my dream to spend a month in Paris has remained constant, ever since I first visited the city.
I was 32 when I first went to Europe; before then I was too busy trying to make a life. But a business trip sent me to London and Frankfurt, each for a week, and when my manager asked where I wanted to spend the weekend in between, I asked if it could be Paris (this was when corporations took paternal care of their employees, which actually wasn't that long ago). And when he said, why not, another Francophile was created.
Since that first solo trip to Paris, when I spent two days walking so much I thought my legs would fall off, terrified that someone would speak to me and my high school French would fail me, I've been lucky enough to return often to this alluring and paradoxical city. This time my husband and I will have an apartment near St. Placide and near the marchés -- the farmers markets -- on Boulevard Raspail, including the weekly Marché Biologique Raspail -- the organic market -- which is also called the Marché Bio, that's held every Sunday. Food in Paris is always a conflict for me because the restaurants, of course, are so tempting and inspiring, but so are the ingredients sold in the city's boulangeries, fromageries, boucheries, and poissonneries (bread, cheese, meat, and fish), as well as the grand markets like La Grande Epicerie. No matter. We will eat well.
Anticipating the trip I've been re-reading some favorite Paris-themed books, including Edmund White's The Flâneur, which I bring with me on every visit, plus some of the latest my-life-changed-in-Paris memoirs, as there seems to be no end to the tales of this city's seductions. Kate Betts's recent book, My Paris Dream, is charming, well written, and relatable for anyone who has traveled alone, or who has taken a blind faith leap into new adventures.
In addition to stories about how she headed to Paris at the age of 22 having no job but great ambition, plus that dreamy Parisian ideal that will, if you stay long enough, get reckoned with reality, Betts has some fun with her readers by including recipes and also some cultural tips a tourist guide rarely includes, like street slang.
Here is a recipe for a potato gratin that she learned from the young housewife from whom she rented a room when she first arrived:
Bibiane's Recipe For Pommes Dauphinoise
2 pounds of Idaho potatoes
4 large onions, thinly sliced
4 generous tablespoons of crème fraîche
1/2 cup of shredded Gruyère cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Peel the potatoes and the onions and slice very finely with a mandoline. Place the potato slices in a pot of salted boiling water and cook for 20 minutes. When cooked, drain the potatoes and layer them with the onions and crème fraîche in a shallow baking dish. Cover the top with Gruyère cheese and add a pinch of salt. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve warm with red meat -- a roast or a steak -- and a bottle of Bordeaux.
Knowing how potatoes can fall apart when cooking, I'd recommend the potatoes be cooked whole and then sliced, but otherwise this sounds rather luscious. Or as Kate Betts might say if using her street-learned slang, c'est bonne bouffe (it's good food).
On this trip I plan to write about my cooking and food shopping adventures with posts on the home page of The City Cook. So please check in with me.
City Harvest: 100 Recipes From Great New York Restaurants
Here is a shocking number: 1.4 million New Yorkers struggle with daily hunger. It's as if when you walked down the sidewalk, every 6th or 7th person could be trying to figure out how they'll eat that day. It's worse for our children: one in four go hungry. In a city so seemingly abundant, it is difficult to fathom such trouble and scarcity.
Since 1982, City Harvest has been helping. Working with many of the city's most famous and expensive restaurants, as well as caterers, bakeries, farmers, manufacturers, and grocers, City Harvest is a private hunger relief organization that rescues food so that instead of going to waste, it feeds our neighbors. More than 500 soup kitchens and other community food programs get daily deliveries of 150,000 pounds of rescued fresh and perishable food that gets turned into healthy meals.
If you live in or visit New York, I'm sure you've seen City Harvest's green and white trucks, doing their nightly runs to pick up leftovers from that evening's restaurant meals. Maybe you're already a City Harvest donor and if you are, bravo. But here's another win-win way to help.
Rizzoli New York has just published a gorgeous new cookbook called City Harvest: 100 Recipes From Great New York Restaurants (Hardcover, 224 pages, color photography, $40). If you buy a book, proceeds go directly to City Harvest. And you get to have a beautiful new cookbook that celebrates New York hospitality and generosity.
Edited by the wonderful Florence Fabricant who has created a book that keeps the magic of our best chefs but puts their flavor and inventiveness securely into the hands and kitchens of home cooks. So if you've always wanted to cook like a chef, Ms. Fabricant has done much of the work for making it easier. Think of being able to make some of your favorite dishes from your favorite restaurants. Dishes like Kimchi Deviled Eggs from Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Tarte Menton from Nice Matin, Colicchio & Sons' Roasted Beet Salad with Beet Vinaigrette, Broccolini Fettuccine from Dirt Candy, Le Bernadin's Poached Halibut in Warm Herb Vinaigrette, Butcher Bar's Pork Loin Roast with Apple-Cranberry Sauce, Broccoli and Cauliflower Goma-Ae from En Japanese Brasserie, and desserts as Blackberry Crema Ice Cream from Red Hook's La Newyorkina, or Hill Country's Classic Apple Pie With Cheddar Lattice Crust. I got so hungry just typing that list.
The book's foreword is by Eric Ripert, chef at Le Bernadin, who has written about the unique relationship between the city's restaurateurs and its larger community. What a kind-hearted gentleman.
The book is very handsome and a pleasure to work with and would make a great gift for yourself or anyone you know who loves New York. The color photos are of plated food as well as the interiors and exteriors of the restaurants. There's a note about each restaurant, clear instructions and ingredient guides, and in a poetic touch given City Harvest's mission to waste nothing, a tip for every recipe for how to use leftovers called "Second Helpings."
See our links to two recipes: Quinoa Salad from The Regency Bar & Grill. Dressed with a lime juice and pomegranate molasses vinaigrette, the quinoa's nuttiness is emphasized with added pecans. And Warm Pistachio Moelleux from Dominique Ansel Bakery, the home of the world-famous Cronut. It's a versatile recipe for a fragrant pistachio cake that can be baked as muffins or a single layer cake, with or without a warm chocolate rum sauce, recipe included.
The Sandwich Bag As A Glove
Here's a very clever and useful kitchen tip that I found in one of Florence Fabricant's notes in the City Harvest cookbook. Do you have to peel something that can stain your hands, like beets? Or have to handle something spicy that will linger on your fingertips or leave a scent. If you don't have plastic gloves, put on a pair of sandwich bags. They are thin enough to protect your hands while not limiting dexterity, you probably already have some, and they're not costly to use once and discard.
Gristede's Doing An Upgrade. Hope Springs Eternal.
The Gristede's supermarket chain, owned by former mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis, has been around for quite a while. And it looks it. The stores are tired and unpleasant to shop in; there's one in my neighborhood that's so decrepit that you can't help but feel like everything in it is past its sell-by date. But Gristede's has recently announced that it is making a $10 million investment to upgrade their 30 stores. Crain's New York Business also reported Gristede's plans for online ordering.
$10 million might be too late and too little to make the stores competitive with the new players, such as Fairway, Whole Foods, and Fresh Direct. Older chains have been closing; A&P filed for bankruptcy and many of the Food Emporium and Pathmark stores have closed, with more likely to follow. We'll see if $10 million is enough for a turn-around.
Time To Bake Bread Again?
The endless summer seems to have finally cooled off. Even with lingering warm temperatures, by late September you could see the difference in the produce at the Greenmarkets with fewer tomatoes and more leafy greens. Last week I saw the first local cauliflowers and in a sure sign of a change of seasons and appetites, my husband asked me to make a pot roast. Autumn has arrived.
If fall weather means starting to bake again, and should you need a little inspiration, here is an article about making bread, written by Stephanie Stiavetti, who writes The Culinary Life blog and is a guest writer at Ruhlman.com, Michael Ruhlman's blog which is both engaging and useful, especially if you eat, cook, or cure meat.
Another Win For Big Food
Last week I learned that Riman Farms, the highly regarded pork producer known for its humane practices and work with family farms, was sold to Perdue. The folks at Riman say their practices won't change, but other such transactions when similar promises were made but unkept suggest otherwise. I'd love to be wrong.
I haven’t felt so disappointed since I learned that Maille, the French mustard producer founded in 1747, is now owned by Unilever.
Rather than ending on such a cynical note, and returning to the pleasure of being back in the kitchen after this long, hot summer, here is a splendid DIY project from the great Mrs. Wheelbarrow, also known as Cathie Barrow of The Washington Post, for making your own feta cheese.
Here is the link to her recipe and method. You can also find Cathie Barrow at Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen where she has other fun, and to my experience, always successful DIY projects.
Happy autumn in New York!