Olympic Gold: Veal Steaks "Stroganoff" with Shiitakes & Portobellos

AFP 520158322 S SPO SPO RUS -I hope you have been enjoying watching the Olympics as much as I have. I've found myself wanting to indulge in a few hearty Russian classics, but how about a new-fashioned Veal Steaks "Stroganoff?" Priyatnogo appetita! Veal Steaks “Stroganoff” with Shiitakes & Portobellos (Radically Simple, Rodale, 2010)

Flavors of fino sherry, espresso, and lemon “lift” an old-fashioned dish, generally made with beef, to something lighter and special.

4 thick veal steaks, about 9 ounces each 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 teaspoons sweet paprika 1 cup heavy cream 6 tablespoons fino sherry 8 ounces baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme ¼ teaspoon espresso powder 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives

Preheat the broiler. Rub the veal with the olive oil. Season with the paprika and salt and pepper and arrange on a broiler pan. Heat the cream in a large skillet until bubbly. Add 3 tablespoons of the sherry and all the mushrooms. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the mushrooms soften, 4 minutes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons sherry, thyme, espresso powder, and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms exude their liquid and then absorb much of the sauce, 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, broil the veal six inches from the heat for 3 to four minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Let rest 5 minutes; thickly slice on the bias. Top with the mushroom sauce and sprinkle with chives. Serves 4

Cauliflower Vichyssoise with Chive Flowers

The chive flowers are blooming once again which means it's time to make my one of my favorite warm-weather soups:  Cauliflower Vichyssoise with Chive Flowers (and parsley oil). You may be astounded to know that the beautiful soup in the photo below is made with only six ingredients.  Four for the soup; two for the parsley oil. This soup is classically made from potatoes and leeks, both the chive leaves (straws) are used and the edible flowers pulled apart.  It is a dish of many virtues and healthy as can be. I saw some lovely crimson rhubarb at the market, too.  Look here tomorrow for radically simple ways to prepare it. Have a meaningful Memorial Day.

 

Cauliflower Vichyssoise with Chive Flowers (adapted from Radically Simple) This more healthful riff on classic vichyssoise is still luxuriously suave.  For a stunning presentation, blanch a bunch of parsley and puree in a blender with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup water and salt; add a swirl to each serving to dance on the white velvet background.

2-1/2 pound cauliflower, or 1-3/4 pounds florets 2 large leeks 1 cup light cream 1 bunch chives with chive flowers Break the cauliflower into small pieces and put in a 4-quart pot.  Add 5 cups water (water will not cover the cauliflower) and 2 teaspoons salt.  Chop the white parts of the leeks to get 1-1/2 cups.  Wash well; add to the pot.  Bring to a rapid boil; reduce the heat to medium.  Cover and cook until the vegetables are very soft, about 24 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes.  In 2 batches, puree in a food processor until ultra smooth, adding 1/2 cup cream to each batch.  Transfer to a bowl; add salt and pepper.  Cover; refrigerate until very cold.  Add water or additional cream if too thick.  Garnish with chopped chives and flowers, and optional parsley oil.  Serves 6

 

Who Needs Quinoa More Than You Do?

2012-11-30-quinoa.jpg A guest at our Thanksgiving Leftovers Dinner raved about a quinoa stuffing she'd made for her own family's annual feast the day before. I cringed a bit because few of us comprehend the dark side of our trendy infatuation with this ancient food from high in the arid Andes.

Quinoa is the only plant that's a source of a complete protein; it packs so many nutrients into so little space that NASA called it an ideal food for astronauts.

America's upper classes, relentlessly striving to eat themselves into good health, have latched onto quinoa as a "superfood," and are gobbling up tons of it. As a result, you have this gastronomic madness of stuffing an already protein-rich turkey with protein-rich quinoa, when stale bread or bulgur wheat or rice or corn would do just as well -- but with far less collateral damage to the citizens of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, where this stuff is grown.

Our quinoa craze may be enriching farmers who grow the stuff -- prices, by some estimates, have tripled in recent years -- and they now can afford mechanized farm equipment, solid houses and college education for their children. That's the good news. They send us quinoa, we send them money -- sounds like a perfect example of globalization. The bad news is that this boom is wrecking the diets of indigenous people who actually need to eat it, because they no longer can afford to purchase this life-sustaining vegetable. (We generally think of quinoa as a grain, but it's actually a seed of vegetable related to chard.) Even more ironic, the children of these prosperous growers now can afford junk food, so newly acquired wealth is impacting their diets, too.

There are reports that quinoa consumption among those who actually live on it is down by about a third in the years since we've "discovered" this 5,000-year-old seed, and that nutritionally at-risk natives of quinoa-growing countries now only can afford cheaper, less nourishing rice or, worse yet, processed food. It starts to sound like right here, where many Americans purchase cheap, nutritionally suspect processed food because they can't afford the real thing.

Minuscule quinoa seeds are cooked more or less like rice, and the result can be a substitute for any starchy component of a meal. You can use it as a cereal for breakfast or as a pilaf at dinner; you can make a tabbouleh-like salad for your kid's lunchbox or thicken a soup; you can use it instead of couscous or add it to your chicken curry. Much of it is labeled "organic" or "non-GMO" or "gluten-free" or "fair trade" -- adding a feel-good appeal to Americans who go soft in their legs when they see the word "sustainable" but who may be unaware that they're taking food from the mouths of children elsewhere.

What's more, the land used for quinoa crops is fragile and depends upon delicate balance between agriculture and herds of llamas, which help fertilize the area and whose large padded feet prevent erosion. These herds are being reduced to make room for more crops, which suggests that eventually they'll need artificial fertilizer to maintain production, undermining one of quinoa's fundamental market appeals.

So what should we do? None of what I've written means we should stop buying quinoa, because then we'd return the Andean farmers to their former states of poverty. Instead, it suggests to me that if we're cooking a meal that might require a nutritional boost -- especially if we're vegetarians or have celiac disease, or if we're outbound in a space capsule -- then quinoa starts to make some gastronomic sense. But if we've already got a wholesome meal in the oven, we don't need to overload it with superfluous "goodness" while removing disproportionate quantities of quinoa from countries where it is needed far more.

Perhaps this is a better feel-good approach.

Why Bread is No Longer Rising

With time on my hands this week, worrying and wondering about loved ones in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I was struck by a fascinating web post: That, as a country, we’re consuming sharply declining amounts of wheat products -- less bread and rolls, less wheat-based breakfast cereals, fewer English muffins and even fewer wheat tortillas.  Sales of bread loaves are down 11.3% over a recent five-year period -- and falling, even as our population grows. Given the vast numbers of Big Macs, Subway sandwiches and Domino's pizzas we buy every day, these data, from Food Navigator USA, seemed counterintuitive to me. Since our national waistlines aren't shrinking, we must be eating more of something else, so I began to wonder where the replacement calories are coming from. Three large trends reveal the answers: A change in how we shop for food; big ethnic shifts in eating habits away from meat-and-potato diets and an explosion of endless snacking.

Start with snacking: Granola bar sales were up 16 percent in the same period (and still rising), so that's one place where oats clearly is replacing wheat -- a packaged snack trumps a sandwich.

In addition, a recently released 2013 food and beverage forecast by international restaurant consultants Baum+Whiteman talks about the "snackification of America" -- noting that snacks now account for about one-in-five eating occasions, and that we've become a nation of serial munchers seeking foods that are portable. "If it fits in your car's cup holder, if you can eat it with one hand, or better yet, two fingers ... then it's being tested in (restaurant) chains' R&D kitchens," they say.

Another study, by Rabobank, noted that all packaged snack bar sales -- consisting mostly of energy, nutrition, granola/muesli, and fruit bars -- have almost doubled in the last ten years. These may sound "healthy" but by and large they're laden with sugar -- which tells me a bit more about where those extra calories are coming from.

Equally important, we've gradually been abandoning the archipelago of shelving in the center of our supermarkets, steering our shopping carts around the edges, where we find vivid fresh products as opposed to cardboard packages -- and this trend is accelerating among younger people (who've gotten the eat-better message) and among single people across the board. So it's down with Cheerios and Fruit Loops and up with carrots and broccoli, chicken and salmon.

The folks at ConAgra, where they sell grains by the carload, told the newsletter Food Navigator that supermarkets are "suffering from 50 shades of beige as ... we shift from a meat-and-potatoes European diet to a more modern, colorful, multi-textured, multi-flavored diet influenced by Asian and Latino food."

Aha! In addition to oats, we're buying more rice and more corn-based products because that's what Asians and Latinos like to eat -- and, nationally, we're increasingly thrilled with their flavors, aromas and spices. Less gravy, more salsa. More corn chips. Brilliant idea by Taco Bell to add Doritos flavorings to their taco shells. Will Burger King someday stuff crunchy corn nachos into their Whoppers in America -- just as they're doing right now in Taiwan?

Four other factors are at play. There's the artisan bread movement with bakers kneading not just wheat but all manner of grains to produce a denser product that's eaten more slowly (I think of my husband's weekly two-day ritual to bake one large sour and aromatic whole-grain rye bread studded with barley; it lasts a week). There's the growing anti-gluten brigade of people who, with celiac disease or not, believe they should avoid wheat for health reasons.

There's also been a swing among fast-casual chains (like Chipotle) toward serving food in bowls instead of wraps, and a rise in salad sales at fast food chains, all taking a dent out of bread consumption.

And finally there's the residual from last decade's anti-carbohydrate movement when white foods and sweet stuff were forsaken by carnivores hoping to trim their midsections.

As for me, I'll still slather my homemade jam on a slice of my husband's warm homemade bread. It's a far better snack than a granola bar any time of the day.

The Magic of Three Ingredients

With a touch of irony, I note that simplicity has become trendy. Again. This September's cover story in Food & Wine breathlessly features their best "three-ingredient recipes ever." Real Simple magazine boasted similar stories over the past two years, as did Oprah magazine. I have to smile knowing that my 1996 cookbook Recipes 1-2-3: Fabulous Food Using Only 3 Ingredients launched a quiet revolution that now is being embraced by the food world's upper crust. Not surprisingly in the era of rampant borrowing, there's hardly ever any attribution to the concept's creator, but the nine books in my 1-2-3 series have been nominated for 5 James Beard Awards (with three wins) and one Julia Child/IACP award. Along with a smash hit called The 1-2-3 Collection, (going strong at Apple's iTunes store), these books continue to surface in stores and garner testimonials from devoted 1-2-3 practitioners.

It has been said, "Never trust a simple dish to a simple chef." And it was with that in mind that I devised my daring three-ingredient formula where every ingredient counted except salt, pepper and water.

Like the minimalist movement in art, which reacted to the excesses of abstract expressionism, I wanted to strip away the froufrou that accumulated during the last few decade that came to define "contemporary" or "creative" cooking.

Instead of competing by the number of ingredients they cram into a dish or how high they can pile it on a plate, I longed for the high priests (and priestesses) of culinary wizardry to let the "ingredients speak for themselves" and manipulate them as little as possible.

When Alain Ducasse opened at the Essex House, his press release boasted of cooking "with just a few ingredients and some herbs". Laurent Gras, made headlines at the Waldorf's Peacock Alley by cooking with only two ingredients. Daniel Boulud, said "cooking with three ingredients is the way a chef really wants to and does cook at home." Boston's Lydia Shire once said "some of the world's best dishes have no more than three ingredients."

Today's superstar chefs, when asked about what kind of food they're cooking, give the same trendy answer. "Simple," they say. But as I study menus from hot restaurants around the country, their offerings appear radically complex in both ingredient usage and cooking techniques.

As my three-ingredient philosophy has demonstrated over the years, there's lots of intellectual glue (like using one ingredients several different ways) needed to make simple recipes work. In addition, cooking simply teaches valuable lessons about the way we experience taste. It would be fascinating to get into the "mind" of today's top chefs as they claim to create their own streamlined dishes.

I like many of the recipes put forth by the test kitchen in September's Food & Wine issue. The rules of the game, however, have been altered: Olive oil has been added to the list of "free ingredients." That's a bit like lowering the handicap of a well-seasoned golfer, but the recipes still sound delicious.

I offer you two crowd-pleasing three-ingredient recipes of my own: Lemon-Buttermilk Ice Cream is the perfect dessert for the remaining lazy-hazy days of summer, and Mahogany Short Ribs proved to be one of the Washington Post's favorite recipes. You may want to check out the reservoir of three-ingredient recipes in my books (many still in print: Recipes 1-2-3; Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook, Entertaining 1-2-3, Healthy 1-2-3, Low Carb 1-2-3; Cooking 1-2-3, Kids Cook 1-2-3, Desserts 1-2-3, Christmas 1-2-3) and you'll understand the magic.

Mahogany Short Ribs (adapted from Recipes 1-2-3) This irreverent merger of foodstuffs results in a tantalizing dish that will amaze and amuse your guests. Prune juice tenderizes marbled ribs of beef, while teriyaki sauce ads a touch of sweetness and salinity. Nice with a bright, young zinfandel. Make sure the ribs are cut in between the bones to make 4 large thick ribs. These are known as "long cut" to differentiate them from "flanken" which is cut across the bone.

3 pounds short ribs, cut into 4 pieces 1 cup teriyaki sauce 1 cup prune juice

Place the ribs in a large bowl. Pour teriyaki and prune juice over ribs. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the ribs from the marinade. Bring the marinade to a boil in a large pot with 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns. Lower the heat, add the meat, and cover the pot. Simmer for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Remove the meat to a platter. Reduce the sauce for 5 minutes over high heat until syrupy. Immediately pour sauce over the ribs. This is also delicious the next day. Remove any congealed fat from the top of the sauce and slowly reheat ribs in the liquid. Serves 4

Lemon Buttermilk Ice Cream (adapted from Recipes 1-2-3) How luxurious only 2 grams of fat can taste. This is fabulous served over fresh strawberries tossed with sugar and spiked with grappa.

2 cups sugar 5 large lemons 1 quart buttermilk

Put the sugar in a large bowl. Grate the zest of 2 or 3 lemons to get 1 tablespoon zest. Cut lemons in half and squeeze 2/3 cup juice. Add zest and juice to the sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the buttermilk and a large pinch of salt and stir until completely smooth. Chill well and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serves 6 to 8

Polenta: The Next Big Thing?

Not long ago, in the epicenter of Brooklyn's culinary scene, I had a delightful dinner in a place called Osteria il Paiolo. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to some of the world's hippest dining venues, is a multi-culti morass of righteous Jews, old-time Italians and Dominicans, and newly-converted food passionistas with young families and big dreams. It is also home to one of the only places I know that features polenta as its calling card, authentically made in an "il paiolo" -- a large unlined copper pot -- the traditional vessel in northern Italy in which to s-l-o-w-l-y stir ground cornmeal into boiling water and salt until thick and creamy. It is sturdier than porridge and more sublime than its humble ingredients might imply. I was no more than 19 years old when I first met its acquaintance during a trip to northern Italy. It was there that I had one of the my most memorable dishes of my life: A thick slice of Gorgonzola dolce onto which was poured a stream of hot buttery polenta across its girth. An exercise in simplicity, its creamy texture and unexpected melding of flavors and fragrances, was downright sinful. And while not the traditional form polenta usually takes, it remains a love-at-first bite memory. While the good people of Tuscany are known as "bean-eaters" because of their culinary proclivity towards legumes, the Piemontese locals are known as polentone. Apparently, everyone in Piedmont eats polenta all the time, and have done so before the Roman empire! (At that time, polenta was made from other grains such as millet, barley, and farro. Corn, or maize, appeared in the 16th century.)

That said, I was excited to try the polenta, and all the other good things I had heard about, at the dining spot loosely translated as "the polenta pot." It is an osteria which, in Italy, connotes a rather casual restaurant where the owner is also the host: Enter Alex Palumbo. Alex, a native of northern Italy's Piedmont region, was primed to bring the signature dish of his family's kitchen to slightly tonier environs. Amidst a sprawl of white table-clothed tables in an industrial modern space, one can dine very well indeed. In addition to the myriad ways to eat polenta, topped with tomatoes and quail, with shrimp and rosemary, with fontina, are exemplary antipasti and main courses -- we especially loved the homemade sausage with savory cabbage served in a terracotta casserole, and my husband said his roasted quail, prepared with pancetta, cream and sage, was the best he ever had. Good, too, was the unusual pappardelle al cioccolata, chocolate pasta with a wild boar and vegetable ragu.

Unbeknownst to me, authentic polenta is made with only water and salt, not the butter and cheese we have come to expect. But along the way, the latter ingredients have become commonplace. And while the ingredients may be 1-2-3, the mastery is in the preparation: Polenta must be slowly stirred for up to 45 minutes for its requisite creaminess and flavor. There are huge copper paiolo pots that have electric motors attached, but at Alex's osteria, everything is lovingly stirred by a mano (by hand.) Alex gets his heirloom polenta -- which is coarse and toothsome -- from a "secret source" in Italy and claims that no one else in New York (ergo the country) has it. At last count, the kitchen is stirring up more than 60 pound per month, up from 10 pounds when he first got started, not so long ago. Clearly, the locals are catching on.

In my own kitchen at home, I make polenta with tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano as one of my ultimate comfort dishes, and on occasion, indulge in that time-honored memory of gorgonzola topped with steaming polenta. Only now I gild the dish with a tuft of balsamic-tinged wild arugula and anoint it all with my best extra-virgin olive oil on top. And I am still enamored of Colman Andrews' polenta with oranges and olive oil from his wonderful book, Flavors of the Riviera. The potential for polenta is promising, perhaps turning us all into polentone one day.

Osteria il Paiolo, 106 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (www.ilpaiolonyc.com)

"Fresh" Is the New Word in Olive Oil

Chile has emerged as the promised land for premium extra-virgin olive oil, the kind of unconventional gift that leaves a lasting impression on your palate and finesse on your dinner table. Green and wet as droplets of morning dew, olive oil from Chile boasts a tree-to-bottle experience right in the orchard. A bit poetic perhaps, but the tiny country is counting on its miraculous climate and feral "terroir" to hoist its sparkling olive oil onto the world market. Where to start? At Todd English's restaurant "Olives" in New York City. On a clear night in June in New York City, 30 journalists and eager foodies sat at one long table to sample the inspired food of Chef English, but more importantly to learn why Chile has landed as prize winner in international competitions -- titles previously held by the more familiar domains of Italy, Israel, and even the U.S. The ring leader in the effort is Hugo Regojo, a Spaniard no less, who turned down a coveted life in the Foreign Service to become a farmer. He has joined the ranks of other pioneers, modern Chilean "Olivareros," to cultivate the riches of Chile's Central Valley.

Olive oil is a sacred food (or ingredient) and so I pay close attention to it. I also happen to love it. At home I use only two kinds of oil and they are both olive oils. A regular blended oil from a good producer, and extra-virgin olive oil -- from Italy, California, Israel, Greece, Spain, or sometimes France, when I can find it. Yet I am intrigued with the new offering from Chile with its golden-greenish hue, notes of almonds and artichokes, and its fresh "alive" quality. Many years ago I tasted a similar "freshness" at the Antinori estate in Italy. They had just developed the technology to "freeze" their exquisite oil almost immediately after extracting. At room temperature, the olive oil tasted almost "molecular" -- an exaggeration of itself. It was nice to get reacquainted with that decisive palate memory many years later.

Olive oil was first mentioned in the Hebrew bible in the 13th century B.C. -- and there is evidence that it has been around a lot longer than that -- as far back as 4000 B.C. As we now know, it is extremely healthy -- high in antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats -- particularly oleic acid -- and cancer-fighting polyphenols. But buyer beware. There are too many flawed olive oils on the market that suffer from rancidity and fustiness -- a word used by olive oil experts to define the "off" flavor caused by anaerobic fermentation of the olives before they are milled. Rancidity, on the other hand, is the result of a secondary oxidation process resulting in a strong smell of paint or varnish.

Chile is selling its premium extra-virgin olive oil to chefs in great restaurants and it is slowly appearing on supermarket shelves. Since the olives are harvested, cold-pressed, and bottled right at the orchard with every bottle you know you're getting just their olives -- and so it has integrity. You are not getting a blend of olives from all over the world, like I discovered in the brand I was using! The climate in Chile is perfect -- cold rainy winters and hot, dry summers let olives reach their optimum maturity -- revealing the great taste and perfume of the fruit (remember olives are fruits). It is also one of the few countries which is free from the dreaded olive fruit fly (bacteria) which severely affects the quality of the oil.

I use olive oil for everything and I bake with it all the time. In my book Eat Fresh Food, my daughter and I invented a lovely Italian-style chocolate chip cookie made with olive oil, as well as tender muffins and a delicious zucchini-banana bread. (You can find these recipes on my blog)

Using olive oil in new ways has always fascinated me. I was the first to invent olive oil ice cream in the mid-80s for the International Olive Oil Council. (Pastry chef Meredith Kurtzman makes it at Otto.) I was the first to freeze olive oil to use instead of butter to emulsify sauces and make them healthier. And I often make a quirky recipe from Colman Andrews (adapted from his book Cooking from the Riviera) for hot polenta topped with fresh orange segments and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil. And that night at Olives, I had a mini martini laced with olive oil from Chile -- and it was very good, indeed.

Poisoned by a Pine Nut Tart

So there I was last week, developing Thanksgiving recipes for a major food magazine -- yes, they work that far ahead -- and nibbling on some pine nuts that I'd bought to make an open-face apple and pine nut crostata laced with Calvados. The first attempt wasn't exactly what I wanted but I kept nibbling at the tart until it was gone.

Two days later, after nailing the rest of the Thanksgiving meal -- a cider-glazed turkey, a puree of celery root, apples and carrots with sage buttered crumbs, and a stuffing made from rice, leeks, and herbs de Provence -- I'd had enough of my own cooking and took a friend to lunch to celebrate. The wine I drank tasted awfully bitter: Metallic and off-putting. Later that night I was invited to dinner at a friend's house in the neighborhood. It was hard to be polite about the meal because everything I ate tasted like I was sucking on cast iron.

I called my herbalist and my nutritionist, neither of whom had the faintest notion about what might be causing this odd eruption of bitterness in my mouth.

A frantic rummaging around the web unearthed a bewildering number of causes: from pregnancy, to mercury poisoning, to faulty fillings, but the one that began to make sense was pine nuts. Lots of people were blaming pine nuts they'd purchased from Costco and Trader Joe's but mine came from an upscale Park Slope gourmet food store. Fingers started pointing straight to China -- and why not? -- if they can poison our toothpaste, why not our pine nuts, too.

The condition is called "dysgeusia" or "metallogeusia" and not everyone is affected. The FDA says it is not an allergy but instead is an adverse reaction to something in the nuts. Its cause is still somewhat of a mystery. Lots of pine nuts have been shipped from China because they're plentiful and cheaper, but starting about ten years ago one particular variety of white pine nut grown there -- pinus armandii -- has been infiltrating packages of the good stuff. Pinus armandii is not classified as edible by the Food and Agriculture Organization, and is called "unfit for human consumption" by food safety experts at the European Commission. Strictly speaking, they're poisonous but don't cause permanent harm, which is why you still find them on food market shelves. These nuts, if you trouble to look, are much shorter than the more expensive ones from Italy that we once exclusively consumed; they should be avoided.

"Pine nut mouth" usually develops a day or two after eating the nuts and that's exactly what happened to me! Almost 48 hours after the last bite of my apple and pine nut tart came the ill-tasting wine and then several days of hideous heavy metal tastes in my mouth. Its cause is still the subject of some controversy, but toxicologists are pretty sure about the source. Its effects can linger from a couple of days to a couple of weeks and it is sure to put you off your feed. You can't "cure" it because it isn't a disease. Various bloggers report that taking activated charcoal tablets, which cost like the dickens at my health food store, lessens the symptoms (maybe), as does drinking aloe vera juice (perhaps not). I've heard that Pepcid works for some people as does sucking on those sour kids candies that I was tempted to buy.

I started to feel like Dr. Jekyll, experimenting with all sorts of foods. Lemon juice lit up the inside of my mouth, roast turkey tasted like fuel oil, and a button mushroom almost sent me to the hospital. I took a Benadryl instead. Strangely, the things I could almost tolerate were triple-strength black coffee (Bustelo) and ice cold tap water which tasted surprisingly good.

One blogging scientist explained that you can't alter the bitterness in your mouth because the actual reaction is registered in your brain.

I suspect that storing pine nuts too long in my freezer exacerbated this miserable experience. But about a decade ago when the price of pine nuts began to soar, so did the number of complaints about this poisoning. The Sherlock Holmes moment comes when you discover that the offensive Pinus armandii happen to grow only in China. Great pine nuts are harvested in the United States, Europe and Turkey, so if you find a jar in your food market with no country of origin on the label, or if the nuts come from more than one country, you might want to put them back on the shelf.

Four days have passed and I'm almost back to normal. Gratitude never tasted so good.

Tastes of the Week

Jan. 23 through Jan. 30, 2012 A week of big, bold, beautiful, bi-coastal tastes.

Lunch at Manzo with Lidia Bastianich. Just the two of us chatting for three hours about everything:  raising children; imparting wisdom to younger women who long to be in the food business; her career path and new tv shows; my career path and new projects; food, wine, friends, our hopes for the future.  It was my first time at Manzo (located on the main floor of Eataly on 5th Avenue in NY) and it was wonderful. The best "tartare" I have ever had; voluptuous sweetbreads; a lovely unusual pasta dish of tajarin (thin egg noodles) with a roasted meat jus; a roasted ribeye with succulent sauteed cavalo nero drenched in sticky meat juices; wines from the Bastianich vineyards, and a plate of freshly-cut blood oranges for dessert. We enjoyed a brief visit from Baronessa Cecilia Bellelli and her sister. Cecilia is Arthur Schwartz's business partner in their cooking school called Cooking at Seliano in southern Italy. Espressos all around. Ciao ciao and grazie mille to Lidia.

The BEST raw yogurt and sour cream from Triangle Farm and Health Foods in Aaronsburg, PA. This was a gift from a new friend who frequents the Park Slope Co-op and cares deeply about the quality and provenance of her food sources. The sour cream was indescribable and much more like French creme fraiche than anything we are used to in the states. I encourage you to find out more about them. I know I will. Am savoring every spoonful and am enjoying it tremendously with a dab of my homemade carrot marmalade. Thank you to Anne Weisen who brought these wonderful products to me.

Many great meals in Vancouver and one of them was world-class! A superb Thai meal cooked by Angus An who worked for the revered David Thompson at Nahm in London (the only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant.) Angus' Vancouver restaurant is called Maenam:  there we had a Thai dinner party for four -- including fried oysters with "nahm jim" sauce made with green chilies (they call them scuds), garlic, coriander stem, galangal, fish sauce and lime juice; hot and sour mussel soup with holy basil; Muslim beef curry with Thai curry paste; a spicy salad of seared tuna, mint, cilantro, nuts, & chili; and of course, pad Thai (the ubiquitous noodle dish.)  Wish this restaurant existed right here in New York.

We had lunch at the sister restaurant to one of the world's most well-known Indian restaurants "Vij."  His smaller place is called Rangoli and it, too, is special.  Especially the "naan" pizza topped with roasted crickets!  I didn't touch it and neither did my daughter who ordered it. What possessed her?  But my husband thought it was awesome. He also enjoyed his lamb, chickpeas and potatoes in yogurt-date curry and our friend loved her goat and jackfruit in creamy curry with coconut cabbage salad, rice and naan. Endless glasses of credible (and authentic) chai made a chilly gray Vancouver day very welcoming.

Another meal was actually mine (!) and prepared at Vancouver's famous book store called Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks. At my cooking class with 18 wonderful students around the eating bar/open kitchen, we cooked a meal from Radically Simple tiny walnut-onion muffins to accompany a glass of prosecco; my jade soup with crab and dill (made with heaps of Dungeness crab from Vancouver instead of the usual lump crab I generally use -- it was fabulous); chicken ras el hanout with fresh tomato-ginger chutney sitting on a swirl of milk carrot and parsnip puree, next to a timbale of coconut-pistachio rice, a "pre-dessert" of whiskey-laced warm carrot marmalade served on silver spoons; and the "little black dress chocolate cake" strewn with fresh raspberries and dolloped with creme fraiche.  It was such an exercise in radical simplicity that the happy guests were stunned and a good time was had by all.

A lovely brunch overlooking one of Vancouver's most beautiful parks and lakes at The Boat House. Delicious eggs benedict atop a grilled cheese and lobster sandwich! Yes! A glass of terrific local BC pinot gris. 

But the most extraordinary meal of all -- perhaps the best, and most inventive I've had in years, was at Diva @ the Met (Metropolitan Hotel) in Vancouver.  More about the menu, the wine pairings and the chef later in the week.  But suffice it to say, it is deserving of at least 3 Michelin stars and the chef, Hamid Salimian is a gentle genius.

Not easy to leave Vancouver but I bring home a basket of taste memories to last a long while.

What We'll be Eating in 2012

For decades I have tracked trends, and as a chef, author and consultant, have created many of them. Some have lingered longer than most marriages, yet others still hover around obscurity or are merely a reflection of personal wishes. Some were so ahead of their time as to be forgotten or "invented" by someone else. That said, as we embark upon a new year of eating, cooking, shopping, blogging, ipad-ing, app-ing, reading, listening, watching, and drinking, here is my list of predictions: Kibbutz-style entertaining:   Have a party, invite a bunch of friends, tell them to bring something. Who needs to show-off any more? Generosity begins the minute you open your door. You set the table, provide the booze and make a main course. Your friends can build the menu around it. You do the dishes. Fun, right? It's the best way I know to get together with your friends more often; take the pressure off cooking, and focus on the conversation around the table.

Eating in your Zip Code: Moving deeper into the locavore trend is that of eating food grown or produced in one's own zip code. It is a suggestion I made in 1993 in my first book Little Meals -- where I talk about growing herbs in my window box and planting tiny edibles in my back yard. Today, chef's are growing "dinner" on their roof tops, in school yards, and home cooks in Brooklyn are planting patches of dirt in their driveways. After all, it's hard to find cardoons in the supermarket. The gratitude grid: Since everyone is so confused about what to eat and not to eat, how to define organic, how to know which species are endangered, how to determine what is healthy and not, I say a wonderful way to begin is with Mindfulness. Mindful of what it took to grow your food, the life that was sacrificed so that you could have your food, and respect for the time and care it took to prepare your food. I promise you that your pleasure will be doubled in everything you cook or consume. Try "cooking in silence" if you'd like to really experience what I'm talking about. Write down the most meaningful or pleasurable food experiences you've had to make them last. (I always think I'm going to remember, but don't!)

Better breakfasts and healthy lunches:  I know a very big company longing to find the next big healthy thing for people to eat in the morning at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc. It's a noble start. And with programs like Edible School Yards and Wellness in the Schools, I know this year will bring about the change in school lunch programs we've all been hoping for. Real food = healthy food: I predict that a "real food" movement will accompany the slow food movement that has captivated chefs from all over the world.  More emphasis on eating whatever is real as opposed to eating whatever is healthy. Pure and simple.

Ingredients to try: Cardoons, parsnips, kale, Chinese broccoli, mussels (making a comeback), new varieties of fish (including cuttlefish and herring!), persimmons, red quinoa, unhulled barley (great in risotto), spelt flour, leatherwood honey, buttermilk, beef shin, fresh chamomile, long beans, fresh lychees, mangosteens, congee (hot rice porridge) for breakfast (or dinner), hibiscus, coconut (oil and water), Thai fish sauce (my secret ingredient).

New foods you'll soon see: Hummus made from everything other than chickpeas!, real Iberico ham from Spain, soft, spreadable chorizo, cross-cultural dumplings, pappa al pomodoro (instead of risotto or pasta), yellow marinara sauce (from yellow tomatoes and yellow peppers), Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread), cakes made with olive oil, good wine from Bulgaria, eating weeds and unknown edible plants, moss and lichens, jams and jellies made from vegetables, beans in everything (healthy and cheap), "bulgogi saucing" and "rendangs" ("dry stewing"), the dishes of Southern India, a few French classics making comebacks.

Upside-down foods: Using fruits as vegetables and vegetables as fruits; red wine from predominantly white wine regions and vice versa; sweet things in savory dishes, savory things in sweet dishes; frozen appetizers and hot desserts; legumes, grains, herbs and soups at the end of the meal; cakes made with beets, turnips, and winter squash; blueberry gazpacho; poultry marinated in fish sauce (it's amazing.)

"Pantone" produce: Every fruit and vegetable in the world will now come in a variety of colors. It's where food and fashion meet -- fashion words becoming food words and vice versa. Saw some real pretty orange eggplants and dark magenta carrots at the farmers market the other day. Nice. It's a rainbow out there.

The cupcake bubble burst: As soon as anyone prints the calorie content of a frosted cupcake, it will all come to a screeching halt. I won't be the one.

The Spice Trade: Food transformation with the world tapestry of spices. There's the spice man, Lior, in New York who is creating spice blends as though they were perfumes. There are nutritionists and herbalists who are prescribing spices instead of medication. I've long predicted that za'atar should be sprinkled on every piece of pizza. Sumac as the new salt (it's also tart), ground seaweed as a common flavor enhancer (lots of umami.) Turmeric as a health booster. Like that.

Radical simplicity:  I wrote the book (Radically Simple -- just voted as one of the most important cookbooks of the last 25 years.)

A woman chef for President: A decade ago I wrote a screenplay about a woman chef who runs for President. Could 2012 be the year some fabulous, personable, smart, focused, intelligent such person arrives on the scene? The plot of my screenplay presaged the tv show Commander in Chief starring Gena Davis and foretold the arrival of a woman chef at the White House. And it predicted the food movement and healthy eating as a political platform, i.e. that of Michelle Obama. Hollywood, are you listening?

Happy New Year. May it be filled with delicious things.

Fast Track: Cars and Food

In my 35 years as a professional chef, I have come to know a lot about food. But I know nothing about cars and so was especially interested in the riveting juxtaposition of great chefs and great cars at a dinner celebrating the 125th anniversary of the automobile. In 1886, we were probably eating many of the same things cooked for us at the Beard House on Nov. 8th, 2011 -- fresh beets, gulf shrimp in courtbouillon, tapioca, suckling pig and turnips, and some version of chocolate cake -- but for the lucky us at this Grand Prix dinner, both food and cars were re-imagined. The event, hosted by Mercedes Benz USA, brought together some of the country's most illustrious chefs to cook a hi-test dinner for a crowd generally unknown to me. Who were they?  Men and women who write about cars!  Some, like me, who write about food, were tickled pink to talk about motor oil instead of olive oil. To discover what drove people to drive the cars that they do; to share memories of first cars instead of first meals, and to revel in the knowledge that cars and food are inextricably linked. How exactly?  Matthew Rudy, one of my dining partners for the evening, put it pretty eloquently:  "Great cars and great food are the same in an important way. They both give this immediate, visceral pleasure. You know you're not just getting to point B, or eating because it's dinner time. You get pulled out of every day for an hour or two." He went on to say that he had "tremendous respect for people with the skill and craft to build cars and meals with such sophistication and attention to detail."  Rudy, who is a senior editor for Golf Digest, including its monthly Long Drives automotive travel column, has written dozens of cover stories, ghostwritten 15 books about golf, business and travel, and is hankering to open a wine store any day now.

Another bridge between food and cars?  According to Christine Quinlan, deputy editor at Food & Wine, car companies are becoming the largest advertisers in food magazines! Last year, the Association of Magazine Media posited that, "Automotive manufacturers are continuing to invest in magazines because magazines and the Internet are considered the most influential source of information for brands especially in the final stages of purchase decisions." And who was the biggest winner of those auto ads in 2010? Food Network Magazine.

There is the obvious connection, as I see it, to lifestyle and aspiration, but whereas Nascar says fast food to me, Mercedes Benz says "slower" food --  hence the all-star line up of languorous dishes and libations. Even the cocktails were custom-designed by renowned mixologist Julie Reiner from Lani Kai in Soho, and the revved-up wine pairings were inspired -- from the 2007 De Forville Barbaresco (from Piedmont) to accompany Dan Kluger's Roast Pig with Smoked Bacon Marmalade and Braised Turnips (from ABC Kitchen), to the not-too-sweet 2003 Chateau Pajzos Tokaji 3 Puttonyos to partner with Karen DeMasco's remarkable Chocolate Brown Butter Cake with Roasted Pears and Hazelnut Brown Butter Gelato. Karen is the beloved pastry chef at Locanda Verde, with good reason.  (I wonder what she drives.)

For several years, Mercedes Benz has partnered with the Beard Foundation in an effort to preserve and celebrate America's culinary heritage as it seeks to link the idea of culinary innovation with automotive innovation. Aha! Clearly there's a precedent:  Michelin tires are "hand-in-glove compartment" to the famous Michelin restaurant guide.

So what else did we eat as we chatted like Car Talk hosts around our table? A first-class first-course from Daniel Humm (11 Madison Park) of "wheels" of perfectly poached and lightly pickled beets with chevre frais and caraway and John Besh's extraordinary Redfish Courtbouillon with Gulf Shrimp and Blue Crab Pearls, made from little tapioca orbs soaked in crab liquor (from restaurant August in Louisiana.) The hors d'oeuvres were pretty nifty too:  including Kluger's now-famous kabocha squash and ricotta bruschetta, and egg shells filled with chive oil and smoked sturgeon foam from four-star chef Daniel Humm.

There was a gorgeous Mercedes convertible parked outside the Beard House on West 12th Street that evening. But in case you were wondering, I took a yellow taxi home.

News Update

Read more about the wonderful dialogue between Deepak Chopra and Jean-Georges Vongerichten at abc home -- on the occasion of the launch of JGV's new cookbook:  On my Huffington Post site later today.

On our way to Napa Valley to the Culinary Institute of America today.  Michael Whiteman (husband) will be giving the key-note speech on "global flavor trends" to 700 chefs!   Will be reporting from there.

Stay tuned for Thanksgiving recipes coming up next week.

Cheers!

Popcorn and Patriotism

It has become fashionable for food companies to link with charitable causes. Two noteworthy efforts are those of Starbucks' Ethos water project which provides children with access to clean water all over the world, and Newman’s Own, whose earnings benefit a slew of children’s causes. But just the other day, I came across a fledgling whose mission is to help the lives of veterans. It got my attention in an unusual way. At my daughter’s 10th grade parent dinner two weeks ago, I sampled some really good popcorn and the best version of cheese doodles I’ve ever had. Not quite Proust’s “madeleine moment,” the puffy, fluffy, cheddary bits stopped me in my tracks. “Wow!” I said, on the way to my first glass of malbec. An indulgent childhood memory had me begging my hosts, “Where did you get these?  They’re fabulous!”  I never expected the answer I got.

As an emergency room volunteer, I had just spent the morning talking to a young veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome prompted, no doubt, by the recent news that his best friend had shot himself. This was just two weeks after his army buddy went to his local VA hospital complaining of depression. He was sent home without a plan and came up with one himself.

My ER patient, a construction worker, had blacked out that morning under a load of heavy glass. He was shaken and decided to come in. We started to talk, he started to unload, and I started to understand what happens to our veterans when they come home.

Nothing. No transition, no financial assistance, no 12-step program about how to integrate into a world oblivious to the perils of your most recent life and blind to your wounds. “Sometimes, it’s worse than that,” said the handsome vet, probably in his late 30’s. “You are vilified by others who learn that you have killed in the name of honor and your country.”  “I risked my life in Afghanistan, I held a dying comrade in my arms, and then I volunteered again.”

So it was no small coincidence that I learned that the host of the party was, in fact, the creator of the Five Point Snacks meant to address the needs of my patient – financial support, awareness, respect, and job opportunities for veterans. My heart skipped a beat.

Advertising mogul Alan Blum, along with creative director, Charles Herbstreith, conjured up the idea -- five snack foods, each honoring one of the branches of the US Armed Forces. The hope? That America’s veterans will have better opportunities to  return to civilian life. Mr. Blum will give 11% of profits to organizations that support, care for and benefit veterans from all branches of the military. And who better than veterans to become the sales-staff-and-spokespeople for the Five Point Snacks.

Said Tiffany Taylor, the snack buyer at BJ’s headquarters who bought the entire product line for all BJ Warehouse stores, nationwide, within a week of the company’s inception, “This is far more than a great snack with a mission, it is a great mission with a snack.”

Alan Blum, whose brainchild this was, helped develop the game-changing ad slogan “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” along with major campaigns for Absolut Vodka and Air France. Perched on top of the movement to partner advertising and entertaining (err, product placement), he created brand integration models for shows such as The Apprentice.  Fixated on consumerism and its future, Mr. Blum believes brands today need to be as much about the purpose as the product itself.  The best example of this right now, he says, is Tom’s Shoes. Buy one pair and give one away to someone-in-need. “If all things are equal,” he says, “why not do something good?”

Within 24 hours of bagging their first products, Duane Reade ordered all five snacks for 240 stores in the tri-state area.  Gristede’s just bought it, as did the 189 BJ’s Wholesale Club stores.

During their co-packer search, Mr. Blum and associates tasted products from all over the country, sampling upwards of 200 different varieties to select the ones that would ultimately define the Five Pont Snacks brand. And while the snacks themselves are really delicious, as any great ad man knows, the heart of a brand is the naming and packaging of the message.

The line-up?  There are Major Murphy’s kettle-cooked potato chips, nutty-tasting Sailor Knots pretzels, upscale G.I. Crunches cheese twists, credible Flotilla tortilla chips, and superlative Airmen Popcorn. “Eat. Live. Give.,” is the slogan of Five Point Snacks.

Sounds like the future to me.

Joe Baum's Nasturtiums: A Tribute

It was the mention of nasturtiums on a trendy menu recently that reminded me of Joe Baum. Considered by many to be the greatest restaurateur of the last century, it is hard to imagine that he died thirteen years ago, in 1998, October fifth to be exact, during summer’s last gasp.

This razzle-dazzle man who created no fewer than fifty restaurants, including the world’s largest-grossing and most legendary, who launched a thousand trends and inspired four decades of chefs, is slowly forgotten by a younger generation who, in blissful ignorance, still eat and drink his dreams.

Sitting wistfully at my desk, I marvel at a menu Joe created more than 50 years ago for New York’s Four Seasons restaurant in midtown New York. On it is a curious salad of nasturtium leaves, presaging by three decades America’s fling with edible flora. Also in its startling repertoire are foraged wild mushrooms, a beefsteak tomato carved tableside, fiddlehead ferns, acid-tinged calamondin oranges (today called calamansi), and those now ubiquitous but then obscure cherry tomatoes and snow peas.

Even with foraging, Joe was ahead of his time, sourcing wild mushrooms picked by John Cage, noted avant-garde composer and celebrated mycologist. If it wasn’t just right, or fascinating somehow, it wasn’t for Joe.

The menu was peppered with Joe’s sensibility:  “Our field greens are selected each morning and will vary daily". Unloved and humble vegetables were heralded with: “Seasonal gatherings may be viewed in their baskets” -- offering 16 side dishes including Farmer’s Sprouts with Bacon, Beets with Rosemary, a dish of Braised Lettuce with Marrow and Almonds.(Twenty years later, he would install a “vegetable sommelier” in the three-star Market Bar & Dining Rooms at the World Trade Center and turn a steakhouse into the country’s first market-driven restaurant.)

More important than any individual ingredient, however, was The Four Seasons’ culinary conceit:  A freewheeling amalgam of great dishes from around the globe that foretold the emergence of a “world cuisine” that, in this new century, defines who we are and how we eat.

With The Four Seasons, and the nearby La Fonda del Sol, which was the country’s first pan-Latino restaurant, Joe began a trend that ultimately broke the strangle-hold that French restaurants held on gastronomy. At the outset both lost serious money and were misunderstood. Notorious for nouns and verbs that tumbled into incoherent sentences, Joe remarked years later:  “I was too previous”.

Joe developed icons you could ingest. His restaurants embodied discovery, pleasure, and sensate experiences, and he brought to every level of dining a theatricality that obliterated stodgy orthodoxies.  He wrote menus in English (instead of stodgy French) – and insisted that people feel comfortable – rather than intimidated – in their surroundings.

Almost 30 years ago, at the Hors d’Oeuvrerie on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, Joe broke all the rules by merging small plates of sushi, quesadillas, bunderfleisch and Thai spring rolls on a single menu that foretold the ultra-relaxed “grazing” craze.

And he introduced New York to two new types of restaurants that he called by their forms:  Trattoria and Brasserie, the latter still alive on East 53rd Street.

Joe created the world’s first fast food court – The Big Kitchen –  and changed the way developers built shopping centers. And he made rooftop dining respectable – the Tower Suite, Rainbow Room, and Windows on the World shone in the sky like romantic spaceships, with interior lives rich enough to outperform a foggy galaxy.

Twenty-seven years ago, I celebrated Joe’s birthday on the first day of my job. He had hired me, a tall, slightly neurotic Jewess with notably sensitive food radar and commendable connections, to be his culinary sidekick.  I had already worked for several brilliant, blustery men – as chef to Mayor Wagner at his law firm, as first chef at Gracie Mansion for Mayor Ed Koch, and personal chef to Joe Brooks, Chairman of the Board of Lord & Taylor, while in charge of 38 restaurants nationwide. I even cooked for a President and Prime Minister.

But nothing could have prepared me for the “University of Baum,” as one Disney executive put it after attending one of Joe’s “master classes” – an endless colloquy of screaming, drinking, discovery and creation, that would influence, once boldly and now posthumously, the spirit of dining and the spectre of hospitality forever.

But that morning, I selected two dozen ripe figs, caressing each as if to ascertain its inner perfection, and brought a celebratory cake I’d baked from a distant memory.

It was an intimate affair, just the four of us, Joe, me, and his partners, Michael Whiteman and Dennis Sweeney, in an office overlooking Madison Square Park. Biting into every fig to find the most succulent, Joe growled “What’s in the cake, Gold?”, miffed that his exquisite taste buds had faltered.

“Olive oil, red wine, lemon zest and a bit of rosemary,” I answered with an apprehension that must have been obvious.  “Something I tasted once in Venice.” He looked at me and said, “Smile.” It was his shorthand for affection.

On that lovely August morning we chatted about Joe’s current projects. I’d been hired to help an upscale supermarket chain rethink how food would be sold in the years ahead. The answer? To cook restaurant-quality food in open kitchens and hire real chefs in starched whites to interact, nose to nose, with customers. We made supermarket food respectable, too.  

At the same time, there was restaurant Aurora in midtown Manhattan, named for the goddess of dawn, which Joe created for himself, rather than for clients.  No project could have been more excruciating for a man who was terrified of criticism. His defense was to brand himself a perfectionist, endlessly tinkering, redesigning, piling up costs and refusing to declare a project finished. One detractor quipped that “Joe could exceed an unlimited budget” -- which occurred at Aurora, a three-star dining temple that eventually sank under its profligate excesses.

And what of his $26 million re-do of the Rainbow Room in 1987? One Rockefeller executive grumbled, “America bought Alaska for one-third of that.” But Joe rescued an American icon from obscurity and had his revenge by resurrecting Baked Alaska on the menu. In short order he turned the place into the country’s largest-grossing, and most magical, eatery.

Earlier, Joe created the outlandish Forum of the XII Caesars where potatoes came baked in hot ashes, pheasant was served forth on a soldier’s shield, and where oversized silverware and wine buckets fashioned from upturned warriors’ helmets reflected the obsessively designed lighting. This time the menu had a short preamble: Cenabis Bene…Apud Me.  “You will dine well at my table”. It was the essence of Joe.

By today’s standards it was high-class kitsch complete with food on flaming swords, but restaurants and hotels around the country noticed that Joe had stopped “doing the continental” and imitated his every move.

He detested being dubbed the “father of theme restaurants” although had created a German sausage emporium, a Latino showpiece, an Irish saloon, an English pub, a Hawaiian restaurant with hula dancers, and quintessential “New York” dining spots.

Working beside him for 14 years, Joe showed me how – given enough design strength, merchandising razzle-dazzle, sizzling menu language and great marketing – it was possible to replace the personality of an owner with the personality of a concept.  Which is why no one looks any more for a Danny or a Mario or Emeril at the door; the idea of eating in one of their places suffices.

Eventually Joe trusted me to create concepts for his company: “Hudson River Cuisine” for the three-star Hudson River Club; Café Greco, the city’s first “Med-Rim” restaurant; Little Meals at the Rainbow Room (with a James Beard award-winning book dedicated to him); the food program that helped win back Windows on the World in 1996, and The Greatest Bar on Earth. I was consumed with his teachings.

Joe was an epicure: a hedonist with a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other and, usually a forgotten cigar smoldering nearby. He perfected a language of food that could make guests swoon, yet his own unruly syntax produced such howlers as “don’t push a dead horse,”  “someone threw a monkey into the works,” and “there’s a flaw in the ointment.”

A few years before he died, the man who rocked the world of fine dining and pleasure got tangle-tongued one last time.  Accidentally conflating two separate thoughts, he uttered the words “sustainable cuisine”, leaving all of us scratching our heads. If Joe said it, it presumably meant something.

A new idealism was born – a concern that today links how chefs and restaurants can support small farmers and regional agriculture so that future generations will dine well at the table.

“Smile,” I heard Joe say, as I bit the nasturtium flower and its peppery leaf. Joe, you are missed.

The Honeycrisp Story

My tastebuds experienced a mild shock just the other day at my local farmer's market in Park Slope, Brooklyn. One of the local producers had a little tasting of its apples for customers passing by. There were four varieties, including my favorite -- the Gala apple from New Zealand. As I'm not one to generally eat apples out of hand, but much prefer them sauced, baked, broiled, sauteed, baked in a muffin, or in a pie, I would occasionally buy a Gala for myself and eat it on the spot. But it was another apple last Saturday that stole my affection: the Honeycrisp. Am I the last to know about them? My daughter immediately bought six and at $3 a pound, instead of $2 for other varieties, this autumnal offering was not inexpensive (as apples go), but we have thoroughly enjoyed every bite. Cutting each carefully and arranging them on a pretty plate had a kind of Zen feeling about it -- for they are perfectly imperfect -- a little too sweet, a little too acidic, a little too delicious. The Honeycrisp apple was an experiment created by the University of Wisconsin Experimental Station -- a cross between a Macoun and a Honeygold (which itself is a hybrid of a Golden Delicious and a Haralson). In the forest of varieties that informs the apple industry, there are local favorites in every zip code, and many imports, including the Fuji apple from Japan, that vie for attention. As a kid, a Granny Smith apple was a special treat -- with an exciting tartness and crisp texture so different from the standard bearers way back then. But this year, on my holiday table (Rosh Hashanah) will be a plate of Honeycrisps to begin a new tradition.

The seasonal salad (recipe below) is one of my favorite concoctions -- with edible punctuations – a mustard seed, sun-dried cranberry, or a nugget of toasted walnut – in every mouthful. But it is especially celebratory with ultra-thin slices of Honeycrisp apples. Ideas for apple desserts, using any apple, are offered below. Enjoy!

ENDIVE,  WATERCRESS & HONEYCRISP SALAD WITH MUSTARD SEED VINAIGRETTE

This can be assembled in less than five minutes! The dressing is also suitable for mesclun greens and for tender leaves of spinach. You can easily turn it into a main course salad by topping with a plump grilled chicken breast drizzled with a little more dressing.

5 large Belgian endive, about 1-1/2 pounds 2 bunches watercress 2 medium Honeycrisp apples, cut into very thin wedges 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil 1-1/2 teaspoons mustard seed ½ cup each: toasted walnuts and sun-dried cranberries

Trim ¼-inch from bottom of each endive. Laying each endive on its side on a cutting board, cut across the width into 1-inch pieces. Place them in a large bowl.

Wash watercress, removing bottom half of stems. Dry well and add to bowl with endive. Add apples.

Put mustard and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until the dressing emulsifies. Add mustard seeds and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Pour over greens and toss gently, making sure to coat all the leaves. Adjust seasoning. Transfer to a platter and scatter walnuts and cranberries on top. Serves 6

And Great Ideas for Any Apple

Saute wedges of peeled apples in butter and sugar until caramelized, then splash with Calvados. Top with vanilla ice cream.

Peel apples and cut in half. Poach in apple cider with a cinnamon stick until tender. Remove apples and reduce cider to a syrup. Pour syrup over apples and top with crème fraiche.

Try an apple cobbler: Toss peeled apple wedges with sugar, orange juice and cinnamon. Top with a mixture of granola mixed with butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.

Peel and core apple. Fill inside with vanilla sugar. Wrap in a square of thawed puff pastry dough and brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Fill cavities of large apples with a mixture of crumbled gingersnaps, honey and pecans and dot with butter. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Try a new-fangled applesauce by adding fresh strawberries or raspberries and a splash of red wine to apples while cooking. Sweeten with an aromatic honey, like leatherwood.

Make an apple fool:  Cook apples with cinnamon-sugar until soft and the consistency of applesauce. Let cool and fold into sweetened whipped cream.

Make toffee apples: Melt a package of caramel candies. Stick a candy-apple stick in each apple and dip the apple three-quarters into caramel. Let sit on waxed paper to harden.

Try three kinds of apples in your next apple pie. Add some grated sharp cheddar cheese to the crust.