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.
Welcome to spring! Instead of ground hog predictions, I always keep an eye out for when the piles of on-sale mangoes arrive, which they did last week at my local Whole Foods, so for me it’s official. Winter is finished.
Another sign is St. Patrick’s Day. Despite my heritage, it’s not a holiday of which I’m particularly fond. I loved it as a kid because if you attended a parochial school in the Boston archdiocese, as I did, we got the day off since St. Patrick was, not surprisingly, the local patron saint. Later, when I was in graduate school, a band of us would gather on that day in an Irish bar to have green beer and green bagels for breakfast, which was as fun and disgusting as it sounds. But after moving to New York, I lived in midtown Manhattan, a half-block from the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which meant enduring the bad behavior of hoards of mostly under-age (or just acting that way) amateur drinkers, which can turn anyone away from the wearing of the green.
But the fact is that I am proud to be (half) Irish and I adore Ireland -- for its amazing people, exquisite landscapes, for surviving its painful history, for William Butler Yeats, Edna O’Brien, and yes, its food.
While The British Isles earned their reputations for forgettable food, that is no longer the situation in Ireland. In a case of painful irony, this country, once defined by its legacy of hunger, today feeds itself and much of Europe and it does so gloriously. I dare anyone to find better salmon, grains that produce such amazing flours, lamb, or butter anywhere. And I would go as far as to say that its semi-soft and creamy-edged Cashel Blue cheese, made by hand from grass-fed cow’s milk in Tipperary, is in the league of the two other greatest blues – English Stilton and French Roquefort. It’s just my opinion.
Last week, as New York headed into a weekend of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, I was invited to a luncheon hosted and cooked by three of Éire’s greats: chef Noel McMeel, chef and author Clodagh McKenna, and the great Darina Allen of Ballymaloe.
Chef McMeel, an alum of Chez Panisse among others, now cooks his modern Irish style at The Lough Erne Golf Resort in Enniskillen, near Belfast. Clodagh McKenna, a friend of The City Cook (we did a podcast with her a few years ago), is a chef and restaurateur (her Dublin restaurant is called Clodagh’s Kitchen), has a YouTube channel, cooks on “Today” once a month, and writes cookbooks. Her most recent is Clodagh’s Suppers: Suppers To Celebrate The Seasons, which is terrific and full of family and city kitchen-friendly recipes and menus. Just in time for the first crop of local rhubarb, here’s her recipe for Rhubarb, Rosewater & Pistachio Galettes.
Darina Allen, a spirited rock star of farm-to-table, organic, and just plain delicious cooking, and who with her family and late mother-in-law, Myrtle, developed Ballymaloe into an award-winning restaurant, inn, cooking school, and 100-acre organic farm, all outside of Cork. She may be equally known for her many cookbooks (her newest one, Simply Delicious: The Clasic Collection, is a sure bet as it contains her 100 top recipes, including this Watercress Soup). But for many she is adored for how she set up Ireland’s first farmers’ market, is a local produce advocate and a member of Slow Food Ireland, and is one of the country’s leading food ambassadors.
The three of them gave demonstrations on what we were about to have for lunch: turnip and potato soup dressed with parsley oil and lardons of Irish bacon (it was amazing), salmon filets served with a luscious basil beurre blanc and spring asparagus (okay, probably from Mexico as it was still freezing in the northeast), just-baked cheese scones served with Irish butter, and tiramisu made with Guinness caramel. I was swooning.
Folks from the Irish Tourism Board made speeches, encouraging us to visit Ireland for its food. I didn’t need convincing as I’ve been to the glorious country and already knew that the fairies are there and that the beauty, charm and kindness of the place are without peer. So go!
Olive Oil Jones
Climate change is affecting weather, which of course, impacts our food supply. For example, an industry trade publication has written about how olives have been harmed by recent weather, so if you see olive oil prices rise this year, you’ll know why. When I encounter any kind of scarcity, it makes me feel even more that we should always buy the best our budgets allow. In the case of olive oil, its world is large, diverse, and tricky to navigate, which is why we need to find brands and suppliers that we trust.
This is why I want you to know about Steven Jenkins. Steve was one of the founders of Fairway, the once iconic NYC supermarket. If you’ve lived in New York for more than ten or so years, you’ll remember Fairway before it became a chain, when it was a quirky one-off and the only place you could find raw milk cheeses, hand-cut smoked tuna, San Marzano DOP tomatoes, fresh local pasta, organic chickens, little jars of Espelette pepper, big barrels of store-fermented sauerkraut, and unfiltered olive oils produced in small towns across Europe. The kind of things that today are ordinary to find just about anywhere. But in the beginning -- which wasn’t really that long ago -- you could get them all only at Fairway and that was because of Steve Jenkins, who literally shopped the world to find suppliers for his customers on Broadway.
After Fairway was sold and became a chain of supermarkets, Steve left the store and for me, it always left a hole and I regretted that he, who knew so very much, had left the food world. I missed being able to buy ingredients that he discovered and promised were the best.
But he’s back and still passionate about great ingredients and he’s using his decades of international relationships and knowledge to bring us some of the best olive oils and vinegars produced anywhere. His company is Olive Oil Jones. He buys his oils and vinegars by the barrel directly from small producers, people who he knows personally and whose olive groves he has visited. Steve then decants your bottles from those barrels only after you’ve placed your order. You can currently buy both 2018 and 2017 harvests, with the oils coming from various regions of Italy, Spain, and Portugal. For my first order at Olive Oil Jones, I bought a liter of 2017 Val di Mazara Sicilian Biancolilla and a bottle of Lambrusco vinegar, produced in a town outside of Bologna. Both are stellar.
I understand that olive oil can be costly and many of us regularly buy whatever is on sale, or the house brands at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, treating the product as basically a commodity. But it is my strong recommendation that you keep two olive oils on hand: A less pricey, but still good quality, extra virgin to use in sautéing and other uses when the flavor of the oil will be masked. But also try to have a great one that you’ve tasted and chosen as carefully as if it were fine wine, and use this one for salads, for finishing a minestrone, or drizzling on a bowl of beans or hummus or a grilled steak. If you don’t know how to choose a great one, I can’t suggest anyone better to turn to than Steve Jenkins and I’m so happy to be able to cheer him on and recommend his new venture. (Just in case it’s not completely clear, this is not a sponsored posting – I don't do sponsored postings – I placed and paid for my own order from Olive Oil Jones).
2019 Food Trends
Food industry prognosticators at the Specialty Food Association, the folks who run the semiannual Fancy Food Shows, are placing their bets on trends for this year. Some of these may surprise you, as they did me:
- Plant-Based Foods. It’s not just vegans and vegetarians who are seeking healthier choices and fewer dairy and animal proteins in our diets, so this category is growing rapidly. In addition to seeking new products, such as dairy and animal protein alternatives, we are also concerned with sustainability (see number 3 below). This trend is not just impacting individual consumers when we buy our groceries but is also a factor in what is called “food service,” meaning restaurants, cafeterias, and other institutions which are also changing their choices.
- The Regional Cuisines of Africa, South Asia and Latin America. The popularity of these cuisines is being attributed to choices made by Millennials and Gen Z who have been exposed to global flavors from an earlier age, largely due to travel and our changing cultural diversity. We can expect to see new ingredients, including spices and produce, which capture the flavors of these cuisines showing up in our markets.
- Cannabis. No surprise here as more states legalize the sale of CBD products. The federal government may not yet be on board with legalization, but consumers are interested and forecasts for the edible CBD market is growing. Categories flagged for having the most promise include cooking oils, coffees, teas, chocolates, baked goods, snacks, beer and pasta.
- Changing Packaging and Consumer Communications. Again, no surprise as consumers demand changes in how our foods are packaged for ease of recycling, as well as how materials, including food scraps, are “upcycled” and re-used. Plus we want to know more about companies’ values, certifications, and accreditations, and want this information clearly available on product packaging.
- Cassava. Also known as yuca, cassava is a starchy root native to South America that is grain and gluten-free. While the root itself is high in carbohydrates, the plant’s leaves are being promoted as a good source of protein and are being used as snacks – as chips or popped or dried as jerky. Farm-to-table meets root-to-leaf.
- Fermented Beverages. This means already familiar beverages like kombucha but the category is growing to include mushroom brews, drinkable vinegars, and fermented grain beverages known as kvas. The drinks are sought for their probiotic and other health benefits (claims include having antioxidants and cholesterol-lowering and anxiety-reducing and heart health benefits). I think I’ll wait on this one.
- Edible Beauty. This means using foods to improve skin health and appearance. While this may sound a bit GOOP-ish, the practice has been promoted in health circles for a while and is increasing. For example, collagen is being added to beverages and snack bars, and oils, that have normally been used topically, such as argan and almond oils, are being more often ingested. The target for this trend is said to be the Gen Xers who are starting to age. But hey, aren’t we all….
- Ice Cream. Seems that ice cream is having a renaissance but it’s not like it was out of fashion. Instead the product is being reinvented with more dairy-free versions (e.g., made with almond, coconut, or soy milks) as well as high-protein and vegetable versions that enable the product to be positioned not as a treat but a health food. Other new flavors are also emerging, such as sesame or florals. I personally am happy to stay with coffee chocolate chip.
Cheese Cave in Brooklyn: David Lebovitz’s blog and cookbooks are wonderful, but he gets out of Paris now and then as when he recently wrote about an interesting cheese cave in Crown Heights. It’s not a retail store but the article is very informing about what needs to be done to age and keep cheese properly, plus it’s a great example of architectural re-purposing as the space was originally a brewery. As our U.S. cheese producers increase in number and quality, this is something that we cheese lovers should know about.
Russ & Daughters Expands: A beloved New York institution, the Lower East Side "appetizing" store Russ & Daughters has opened a new 18,000 square foot facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that gives the company a new retail presence plus the ability to produce and ship more of their wonderful smoked fishes and baked goods to areas outside NYC. What’s visible in the new location are its retail and sit-down areas, but another 15,000 square feet of the space is devoted to a kitchen, bakery, shipping production, and room to grow. There’s more information, plus photos, in this article from Eater.
Roman Holiday: Planning a vacation to Italy? If you are, then you know that it is a gorgeous and delicious place. My husband and I think we will go a year from now, in the spring when artichokes are in season since our agenda will primarily be eating. I recently discovered an excellent website written and produced by Katie Parla, an American who lives, cooks, and gives private tours in Rome. I like the website for its list of Roman restaurants (you can be overwhelmed by the volume of choices in Rome, most of which have very similar menus so it’s hard to discern) and her food tours. She also has a new cookbook out that I haven’t yet seen but I plan to investigate it. It’s called Foods of the Italian South and it’s about the culture and traditions and recipes of the regions south of Rome.
The Best Roast Chicken Ever: Okay, everyone has a favorite way to roast a chicken. And I know that many cooks, chefs, and eaters think that the success of a simple roast chicken is the ultimate skill test. With the qualifier that there’s probably no single way to make a great chicken (except maybe the Zuni Café version but only with a spotless oven if you don’t want to set off your and your neighbors’ smoke alarms), I have become an addict for the Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken from the wonderful Samin Nosrat, famed for her book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, her Netflix series (which is outstanding and such fun), and recipes at The New York Times.
I love it because the resultant flavor is simple – it tastes like chicken (so be sure to buy the best you can). It may be the juiciest chicken you’ll ever cook, and aside from having to plan a day in advance to get the bird into its buttermilk marinade, it’s acutely simple to make. I’m sharing a link to the recipe at The Times because I think the reader comments are often very helpful, but since there’s a pay wall, here, too, is the recipe at Nosrat’s website.
Enjoy the longer days and the rising daffodils.