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 know. It’s been a long time since I’ve sent a City Cook newsletter. In case anyone was concerned, my family and I are fine. My husband and I each had Covid in April, but had a relatively easy go of it. We were vacc'd, boosted, and lucky. But otherwise, I simply have been very busy with other activities, and since the cooking world is so vast and voluble, I didn’t think there was much that I could add.
While I haven’t been sending newsletters, I have been updating TheCityCook.com. I know many of you only read my newsletters, but the website is still active and I’ve been deleting out-of-date information, replacing photographs (a task that is ongoing and demanding), and refreshing articles that I’ve written over The City Cook’s sixteen years. Its longevity continues to amaze me -- that there is even anything more to say -- but it seems that with home cooking, there always is. And I am grateful that the site is still regularly visited.
I’ve also made a small entry into Instagram. I’m still learning how to produce and publish content but if you’re an Instagram user I would love it if you might find and follow me @thecitycook. Here's a link.
The other things that haven’t changed are that I still make dinner every night, I still roam around New York City’s grocers and food merchants for the best sources and values for ingredients, and I still seek out new cookbooks for recipe ideas and to improve my technique.
Other than checking in with you so that you didn’t think I was in distress or worse, I do have a few things to share.
I think you already know how New York can be a grocery shopper's paradise, especially if you leave Manhattan. We are a proud city of immigrants and our ethnic communities celebrate their flavors not only in restaurants but in their markets. A long-time example of this is Arthur Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood of The Bronx where I recently paid a visit, bringing along a large duffle bag on wheels which I brought home full. This is an Italian community and while it’s become more diverse in terms of who lives there, the food stores are still Italian-American, like Teitel’s grocery for DOP San Marzano tomatoes, prosciutto, and wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cut to order; Borgatti’s fabulous fresh pastas; and my favorite bakery for bread and breadcrumbs, Terra Nova. There are also wonderful butcher shops and fishmongers with good selections and even better prices, and some of the fish markets spill out to the sidewalk where they'll shuck oysters or clams for a snack or standing-up lunch, maybe with a paper cup of cold Pinot Grigio. It's easiest to drive there, but having no car, I always go by either a subway/bus combo or Metro-North.
This summer I was also able to attend this year’s Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in Manhattan where over 1,700 international producers filled Javits for three days, hawking tens of thousands of products (it's everything except fresh produce) destined for home cooks and eaters. It is always daunting to walk this show which usually fills all the levels of Javits, but this year people were almost giddy with enthusiasm as it was the first show in three years due to Covid. This is where producers sell their wares to grocery stores, other retailers, restaurants, and institutions so it's a great place to spot trends. For example, it was clear that that plant-based eating, especially in the snack category like vegetable chips, plus other sustainable choices, is assuredly mainstream. There was also a lot of product support for fermentation -- pickles, miso, vinegars, sauerkraut, and others. I kept my mask on as much to resist the thousands (no joke) of samples coming my way. However, I went with a plan and a map, and kept my focus on New York companies, smaller producers, and brands that I know home cooks trust, but even that took me a day to cover.
Among my favorite new products I came upon is Bould Ass Rub, made by hand in small batches by Bould Ass Seasoning in Georgia by a family-owned business. If that’s not enough to love, the rub’s flavor is gorgeous. You can amp it up with more heat if you want, but I’ve been leaving it perfect as it is (it’s also low sodium) and rubbing it on roasted pork tenderloins, pork ribs that I’m again slow cooking in the oven now that summer’s heat is gone, and on chicken. The easiest way to buy it is on their website.
At the show I also learned that Diamond Crystal is unveiling new packaging and will also be introducing their kosher salt in smaller packages instead of just their 3-pound boxes, plus they’re soon to launch pink Himalayan salt (no chemicals or caking agents) that you’ll need to use in a salt grinder. I and so many other home cooks depend upon this brand of kosher salt (it's much better than Morton's because it has no caking agents) that any changes can be noteworthy.
The City Cook Podcast
Some of you may not know that The City Cook has had a podcast since 2007. You can hear it at our website or at the Apple podcast store. I do the interviews as opportunities come along, and of course, Covid was certainly an interruption. But in the coming weeks we have two new podcasts coming, our first since late 2019.
The first will be with Mary Ann Esposito, host of the longest-running cooking show on PBS, Ciao Italia, and author of 14 cookbooks. I have enormous respect for Mary Ann, as well as affection. The fact that she and I are fellow New Englanders, she from New Hampshire and I originally from Massachusetts, is a nice commonality, but we met in the early years of The City Cook and twice previously I have interviewed her for our podcast. Mary Ann is a natural teacher, and every year she brings groups of American home cooks to Italy, each year to a different region, to visit producers, farmers, chefs, and markets to learn authentic regional Italian cuisine. She may be the hardest working woman in the food world as she also begins production on her next season on PBS, continuing to teach the Italian repertoire to her loyal viewers across the country.
This fall she's also giving us Ciao Italia: Plant, Harvest, Cook*, her 14th book, planned and written during Covid and published by Ciao Italia™, an imprint of Peter E. Randall Publisher. This one is not a traditional cookbook per se, but instead is about how to grow your own own vegetables and then cook what you grow. It's beautiful, useful, and inspiring and is a practical handbook and guide for any backyard gardeners -- both beginners and experienced growers -- even if your plot is a piece of a community garden or containers sitting on a deck or window sill. At a time when more of us are striving to live lives with more sustainable practices, growing and cooking our own food is among the best ways we can achieve healthier, affordable, and ecologically balanced lives. Mary Ann's book is the perfect guide.
Her book is instructive and helpful, with the kind of how-to’s that only an experienced home gardener knows. She wrote it with her husband, Guy Esposito, who created their family vegetable garden and with Mary Ann, has nurtured it for years. Then there are more than 100 delicious Ciao Italia recipes, presented by vegetable or herb and by growing season, that home cooks at all skill levels can make. I had an e-galley of her book in late summer when tomatoes were at their best and I found myself needing a last minute side dish for a dinner party. My large bowl of ripe cherry tomatoes weren't from my garden -- I don't have a garden. Mine came from my weekly Greenmarket. Despite knowing the rule to not risk making something for the first time for company, I also knew how dependably excellent Mary Ann's recipes always are, so I made her Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce with shreds of local basil and al dente pasta bow ties. It was exquisite and I know it will be repeated next summer when tomatoes are back at their peak.
After Mary Ann Esposito, I’m excited to be doing a podcast with Alex Hitz, an exuberant, creative, and renown chef, caterer, and expert in entertaining at home. He also has a terrific new book out, this one called Occasions to Celebrate*, published by Rizzoli. As in his first book, The Art of the Host*, Alex loves to show how to bring groups of people together, make them comfortable, feed them well, and create a sense of occasion. But what drew me to Alex and his elegant style of entertaining are his principles for making any party or event successful, regardless of its scale, style, formality, or budget: to make people comfortable and happy and to serve food that is universally appealing and within the reach of almost any home cook. He has advice for the novice and the practiced host and I promise you will learn from what he had to say.
Our podcast with Alex Hitz will be published in early December as we approach the party night of the year, New Year’s Eve.
For any of you who have been long-time readers of my newsletters, you know that I'm fussy about having sharp knives. I’ve written about replacing my honing steel, a good thing to do but it only really makes a difference if your knives are sharp to begin with. During Covid I bought a small hand-held sharpener but found that I had to repeatedly use it if I was to maintain even mediocre sharpness, which I knew was terrible for my knives as it meant the knives were never really getting sharp and maybe even damaged. So the sharpening dilemma continued.
As the Covid lock-downs lifted, one of my readers wrote to me about a man in Manhattan doing sharpening out of his apartment. I was shy about giving him a chance; I’m not sure why. There used to be a knife guy with a truck who occasionally roamed my neighborhood, usually on weekends, ringing a bell to let you know you could bring your knives and he’d double-park his truck and sharpen them on the spot. But I could never manage to stop whatever I was doing and grab a bunch of knives and my wallet and hit the street in time to try him out. When I'd be out doing errands in various Manhattan neighborhoods, I’d see signs in hardware store windows offering the service but who knew how good they’d be? I have good knives, some Shen, Wusthofs, and my newest which is from Milk Street. Most I’ve had a long time and that is rather the point: taking good care of good knives has meant they’ve lasted. When Covid restrictions lifted, I finally brought a few knives down to Henry Westpfal in the Chelsea neighborhood. They have been sharpening knives and cutting tools for the restaurant and garment industries for years and they've taken care of mine in the past. This time I learned that the business had been sold and while the machine shop was still working, the man who took my knives doubted they’d be in business much longer. Given the crappy job they did with my knives, I can see why he was probably right.
So I was a receptive customer when I got an email from Zwilling announcing their new knife sharpening service. I ended up on Zwilling’s mailing list because I had recently bought a tea kettle from them (this one, my first electric kettle, which I love after 2 stove-top kettles failed in less than two years). Zwilling is one of the brands that make up a company called Zwilling-J.A. Henckels, which dates backk to 1731 and today includes Staub, Henckels, Miyabi (beautiful Japanese cutlery if you don’t know them) and other cookware and kitchenware items.
I have no relationship with Zwilling except as a customer; this is neither an ad nor a sponsored promotion. I'm just sharing a very good customer experience.
Frustrated with my local options, and figuring that this company had some expertise when it came to knives, I took a chance, paid $89, and sent them seven knives (you can do as few as four knives for $59). In two days I received a rather ingeniously designed kit to pack up and ship them my knives. The next day, which was a Monday, I dropped my packed-up knives at the post office and on Friday, five days later, my seven knives, now with blades sharper than when they were new, were back in my kitchen. Exactly one week from clicking on Zwilling’s website, start-to-finish. It had taken me a week and about the same price, for me to have had Westpfal do a mediocre job.
The $89, which is paid upfront and triggers their sending you their shipping kit, covered everything – shipping, the packing kit, insurance, taxes, and the sharpening. The work was done at a Zwilling location in California, which made the warp speed of the coast-to-coast experience even more impressive. The kit, made primarily out of sturdy cardboard and ingeniously designed, was easy to work with and protected the blades for transport and safe unpacking. Zwilling promises that if once they receive your knives there are any questions, they’ll call you. And the package sent back to me was as meticulously packed as if my knives were brand new.
Here's where you can get more information and I’ve added a few photos to show what the packing is like.
I did all this in early August and my knives, which get used every day, have remained as beautifully sharp as the day Zwilling sent them back to me. This was a very impressive customer experience and I recommend it.
I’ve already mentioned Mary Ann Esposito’s new book, Plant, Harvest, Cook, and Alex Hitz’s newest, Occasions To Celebrate. But I wanted to mention one more, this one by Susie Theodorou called Mediterranean, Naturally Nutritious Recipes From The World’s Healthiest Diet*, published by Kyle Books.
Susie, who is from a Greek/Cypriot family and raised on their way of eating, combines important guidance about the nutritional basis of the Mediterranean diet. There’s a first chapter written by nutritionist Alina Tierney which frames the recipes that follow. The first recipe I tried from Susie’s book was Farro and Fennel Pilaf, which was so satisfying and flavorful, and I’ve since made it again, this time adding roasted little cherry tomatoes that I had on hand. Next up for me are a pizza topped with Tomato, Coppa and Rocket, grain bowls, Pork Souvlaki, and a pasta made with Guanciale, Egg and Broccoli Rabe. There are primers about cooking beans, grains, and greens. And while a number of her recipes are for grilling, she also includes instructions for those of us without grills, such as her simple but effective method for roasting whole fish in an oven, no flipping the fish necessary.
Mindful eating and wonderful flavors come together to remind us that this is not a diet but instead a lifestyle. I’m sure you know that there are quite a few books about Mediterranean cooking but I suggest you seek out Susie Theodorou’s for its flavor, its versatile recipes, and especially the generous and reliable nutrition/ingredient/cooking guidance about how embracing a Mediterranean way of eating can change and maybe even save your life.
I’m going to be traveling soon and I don’t know when I’ll be able to again send a newsletter but I often think of my readers and what is important to you. I suspect it’s the same as what is important to me -- to keep our time in our kitchens rewarding. As the seasons change, I hope you find satisfaction in making and sharing our autumn meals.
And since we’re now mid-autumn, I thought I’d leave you with a poem by my favorite poet, that speaks to the sometimes bittersweet poignancy of this time of year.
Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,
And over the mice in the barley sheaves;
Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,
And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.
The hour of the waning of love has beset us,
And weary and worn are our sad souls now;
Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,
With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.
W.B. Yeats, 1889
Enjoy these fading days of autumn and be safe and well.
Kate McDonough, Editor
*The City Cook contains affiliate links whereby The City Cook may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through them. There is no extra cost to you if you use these links. The City Cook also sometimes receives free review copies of cookbooks, both hardcover and e-galleys, from publishers. There are no obligations or promises made in exchange for our receiving these books.