Tastes of the Month - A new month/new food

tastesofthemonthOn this last day of the first month of a new year, I did a quick review of the most delicious things I've had to eat (and drink.)  Hands down winner was the parsnip ravioli with coconut jewels and beet vinaigrette at Jean-Georges' restaurant Nougatine I told my guest that I didn't think I would encounter anything that felt more "French" or contemporary on my trip next month to Paris.  This dish had it all -- grace, ingenuity, beauty and mystery.  What exactly were those little clear icicles that quivered atop the diminutive ravioli (slightly sweet and earthy from its filling of pureed parsnip but balanced with primal acidity from the scarlet vinaigrette)?  The gems were solidified gems of coconut water.  Somehow it all worked magically together.  And few things are more sublime that his pristine salmon tartare on a oil-slicked tranche of yeasty grilled bread. Some chives, a squirt of lemon. How he does it I'm not sure but there at lunchtime there are $25 and $32 prix fixe menus.  Jean-Georges continues to be my hero. More great tastes included a 2002 Pommard from Jean Garaudet shared with our friends, travel and wine writer extraordinaire Gary Walther and Anna Sabat, in a private wine cellar located below the Chelsea Market.  What a treat to sit in the frigid air sipping true cellar temperature reds amidst thousands of cases of "other people's wines."  There was just a little nook and a table and chairs, a hanging lamp, and us.  We sipped and marveled at another two great wines, also supplied by Gary at the Old Homestead!  I haven't been there in decades. Two 1995 St. Emilion's tasted mighty good with what was one of the best rare burgers I've had in ages.  And...the bun is branded with a hot iron! The Clos de l'Oratoire and Chateau Canon-la-Gaffeliere (which tasted of boysenberry and tar) were incredibly vibrant and pleasing to drink.

And Park Slope's Stone Park Cafe, remains beloved since it's opening by Josh Foster and chef Josh Grinker.  What's not to love?  Black trumpet mushrooms on toast with tarragon creme anglaise and Petrossian salmon roe (yes, it was brilliant); Beet Salad "tarte tatin" with goat cheese, arugula, and caramelized balsamic vinegar; and their signature Berkshire Pork Shank with truffled whipped potatoes and winter vegetables.   Even the Stone Park Burger was first rate (I've been eating lots of burgers recently.) There's a great wine list, too, generously conceived by a savvy sommelier.

And while I go to few press events, I had a great time at Casa Pomona, located on the Upper West Side, where executive chef Jodi Bernhard concocts pintxos and pescados y mariscos and paella and frituras with the best of the new Spanish-inclined culinary wizards.  Great patatas bravas, wonderful mussels en escabeche, and a trio of croquetas (filled with chorizo and cheese; salt cod & potato, and fig & walnut.)  I would go again just for the grilled grass-fed hanger steak with swiss chard, oyster mushrooms and onion marmalade and happily look forward to a Monday night special of suckling pig for two.  Brava Jodi.

Other great tastes?  Billowy gnocchi with brussels sprouts and pork belly at Le Zie, an Indian feast (with dishes too numerous to mention) at the stunning Junoon, and a nice side dish of Brazilian kale at Coffee Shop. Here's to a delicious February.  Let me know what you're eating and drinking.

Tastes of the Week

June 11 thru June 18, 2012 A sensational lunch at Lincoln (at Lincoln Center) prepared by chef Jonathan Benno (formerly at Per Se), sponsored by DeBragga, affectionately known as New York's Butcher. The lunch celebrated the efforts of Niman Ranch family of farmers whose community of more than 725 farmers raises their cattle, hogs, and lambs with utmost care. They have changed the standards of sustainable practice and have influenced a new generation of farming systems. The menu rocked with crispy pig trotters, "testa" (headcheese), ravioli d'agnello (lamb neck, tongue, sweetbreads, and pecorino) in a lamb sugo, 40-day dry-aged ribeye of beef, with greenmarket tomatoes, arugula and balsamico, and for dessert, something intelligently conceived and very delicious -- a triptych of chocolate torta with guanciale and sea salt, biscotti al lardo, and crostata ai frutti di bosco made with dry-aged beef fat! Fabulous! Much praise all around -- to DeBragga, Niman Ranch, the farmers, the chefs, and the beneficent earth.

Had a lovely young neighbor over for dinner. She's from South Carolina and told us about "chicken bog" (a native dish) and flounder gigging (a local past-time.) It may be time to learn more about the "low country lifestyle!" Katie's a vegetarian, though, and I made her "rutabaga steaks" while we ate my husband's ever-so-slow-cooked country ribs (smoked over charcoal and cedar).  We also enjoyed a last-minute carrot salad (julienned and lightly steamed) tossed with caramelized onions, balsamic vinegar, and slivered basil. Chicken bog, by the way, is a pilau of chicken, sausage, celery, and moist (but not soupy) rice and spices.

The most creative and best pizzas ever at the newly-decorated Keste on Bleeker Street. Imagine sinking your teeth into these:  Ricotta e Noci, made with "cream of walnut", fresh ricotta, homemade mozzarella, pecorino romano and basil, or Salsiccia e Friarielli -- made with rapini, Italian sausage, imported smoked mozzarella, and extra-virgin olive oil.  Keste has gluten-free pizzas (senza glutine), white pizzas, red pizzas, "night and day" calzone, and stuffed pizzas, too -- da morire (to die for.)

Fresh herring from Holland with Cantillon lambic beer.  A great pairing!  Thanks, Jimmy Carbone!  (As tasted on Cooking Today radio show).

Cold slow-cooked country spare ribs with roasted beets and white bean salad at home, washed down with Vinas de Balbo (bonarda-malbec blend) from Argentina.

Very good strawberries, lightly sugared and showered with slivered fresh mint from my window box. June is busting out all over.

Enjoy your own tastes of the week!

Tastes of the Week

June 4 through June 11, 2012 This was a crazy week of eating, press events, and socializing. How did we ever do it when we were young travelers -- eating two meals out, day after day. I really crashed at the end of the weekend when all I could do was eat animal crackers. Ha! What made me think of animal crackers?! I think it was a trip to my second carousel this month. This time it was at Prospect Park. (Several weeks ago it was the new carousel in Dumbo.)  We were there to celebrate the 100th birthday of the beautiful carousel, complete with a beautiful "carousel cake" made by Hudson Cakery (located in Weehawken, NJ.)  The cake was delicious and all around it were small horses made out of a kind of hard sugary fondant.  The excursion through Prospect Park and a visit to the Vale of Cashmere was courtesy of the Prospect Park Alliance, which continues to restore the park to its former Revolutionary glory. It is still glorious, however, and frequented by families, dogs, frisbee throwers, bikers, capoeira dancers, marathon runners, barbecue-ers, sightseers, drummers, and carousel goers.

Taste highlights: Wonderful, homemade string cheese!, compliments of Laurie Sandow, who, with her friend Midge, twisted many braids of the delicious cheese and was thoughtful enough to share some of it with me.

Freaking good fresh figs, compliments of the California fig advisory board. A "fig feast" at abckitchen.  Standout: honey-glazed turnips and fresh figs with rosemary and lemon.

A trip to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Ricos Tacos at 505 51st St. (near 5th avenue) for tacos al pastor (marinated pork), tacos especiales with crispy tripe, and huarache grande (a sole-shaped flour tortilla) topped with ground meat and cheese. We'll be going back for the carnitas burrito which looked big enough to feed four.

A Lebanese banquet of mezze at ilili on 5th avenue. Chef Philippe Massoud has brought Lebanese food to "four-star" status.  We especially loved the "sliders" (ask for them -- they melt in your mouth), mouhamara w. walnuts, sundried peppers and pomegranate molasses, the shankleesh (a salad of feta, tomato, onions and za'atar), washed down with an excellent (and rather inexpensive) white wine from Lebanon, Masaya blanc, 2010.  

A fabulous lunch at Gramercy Tavern with star chef Michael Anthony.  Loved the fourchu lobster "salad" and monkfish with nettles -- one of the most sublime fish dishes I've ever had.

A lovely "media" dinner sponsored by Olive Oil from Chile at chef Todd English's restaurant Olives, located at the W Hotel near Union Square.  Standouts: the extra-virgin olive oil mini martini, Hudson Valley foie gras potage. olive oil tres leche cake with caramelized honey ice cream (and figs!  'Tis the season.)

Enjoy your own special tastes of the week!

Tastes of the Week

Week of June 4th, 2012 So it's officially time for something. Not sure what. I am perusing everything I can. What am I saying?  I will be hosting Martha Stewart's Radio Show "Cooking Today" on Sirius XM next Monday, Wednesday and Friday -- June 11th, 13th and 15th. Lining up my guests now. Hot topics, chefs of the moment, genius recipes, the book du jour, food trucks in Paris, American chefs in Paris, Chipotles in Paris. And mangoes in India. Great article in the New York Times about it. Mangoes and monsoons. Reminds me to mention the captivating, charming movie "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" which takes place in India; Jaipur to be exact. I've been there. It's not as clean as it is in the movie but it is actually more magical. It's known as the pink city. I grew up eating mangoes. My grandparents had a big ol' mango tree in their backyard on Linda Lane in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Feeling nostalgic as I can remember sliding my teeth along the resin-y skin of the voluptuous orange flesh with the juices trickling down my arm. I was six at the time.

In my very first cookbook, Little Meals: A Great New Way to Eat & Cook, I created a recipe as an homage to my mumma and grampy -- Louise and Joe Gold. They were both from Hungary and loved to eat. My grandfather and his mother actually had a restaurant for awhile in Astoria, Queens on the second floor...somewhere. My grandfather, known for his extreme generosity, gave most of the food away. It's hard to stay viable with "free food" as your business model. He was known as an angel by those who came into his orbit. Both my grandparents died early and I miss them.  My grandmother was ten years older than my grandfather. My mother kept it a secret (it was her promise to her mother), all their lives; right up to, and including on, their tombstones.  Quite a love story, right?  Maybe I'll write a story about it someday.

But in the meantime, here is that recipe from Little Meals that is quite nice for the summer months.  It was always summer on Linda Lane.

Shrimp, Mango & Hearts of Palm Juicy, ripe mangoes trigger vivid images of my grandparents' mango tree. Up the street was a lime tree. And so this dish is dedicated to fond childhood taste memories.

1 pounds very large cooked shrimp, peeled 2 ripe mangoes 1 can hearts of palm, rinsed and dried 1/2 cup fresh lime mixed with 1 teaspoon ketchup 1 tablespoon finely minced jalapeno 3 tablespoons olive oil pinches of salt, pepper and sugar 4 packed cups of spring greens, mesclun or soft lettuces

Cut the shrimp into large pieces and place in a bowl.  Peel mangoes and cut into cubes the same size as the shrimp. Add to the bowl.  Slice hearts of palm 1/3-inch thick and add to the bowl.  Toss with lime juice, jalapeno and oil.  Balance the flavors with sea salt, pepper and sugar.  Toss and refrigerate 30 minutes.  Arrange lettuce on a platter or on 4 plates. Mound salad on top. Garnish with thin slices of lime.  Serves 4

I should really start making more of my own food. I understand it's quite good. Someone I haven't heard from in a decade called me out of the blue last week to tell me she made one of my recipes recently and just had to tell me how much she loved it. Then she told me she makes it all the time.  But last week she threw the prune-and-bay leaf stuffed pork tenderloin on the grill. She has a new boyfriend. Maybe that's why it tasted so good. Not sure really.  That's a very easy thing to mess up on a grill; a tenderloin is so narrow and easily overcooked.  But when you're in love, magical things happen and we imbue our food with qualities it might not really have. Here's the recipe anyway.  Barbara Biondo (who is one of the most talented calligraphers on the planet -- her company is called American Art Studio) also makes another recipe -- and this one is from Little Meals.  It's called Chicken Soup Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee.  I made it for one of my appearances a long, long time ago. Someday I will share that recipe, too.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Prune & Bay Leaves ( from Recipes 1-2-3) In France, where the mention of prunes never causes a snicker, this dish would have a distinct bistro feel. Try with Hubbard squash and orange puree and crack open a bottle of white Burgundy.  For a different style, serve it with caramelized endive and bacon and enjoy a glass of Beaujolais.

8 California bay leaves 15 large pitted prunes 1-1/2 pound pork tenderloin

Place the bay leaves and prunes in a bowl.  Pour 1-1/2 cups boiling water over the top and let sit 15 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make a 1-inch-deep slit along the length of the tenderloin, leaving 1 inch uncut on each end. Remove the bay leaves and prunes from the water and pat very dry.  Place the prunes in the bottom of the slit in a tight row. Crumble 1 bay leaf finely and sprinkle it over the prunes.  Roll the meat and tie it tightly at 1-inch intervals.  Season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Remove the remaining bay leaves in a row, under the strings.  Oil the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast 30 to 35 minutes (or throw it on the grill as Barbara does!).  Let it rest 5 minutes before slicing.  Remove the bay leaves.  Serves 4

Upcoming events:  Pastry Chef Awards tonight; a dinner in honor of fresh figs at abckitchen; a dinner in honor of Chilean olive oil at Olives at the W; lunch at Gramercy Tavern, recipe testing for Cooking Light, pork chops for dinner tomorrow.

Enjoy your own tastes of the week.

Tastes of the Week

May 14 thru May 21, 2012 Okay, it's really true that I had one of the best meals ever, in a casual, non-fussy way, last week at Il Buco Alimentari on Great Jones Street. Despite my skepticism over the hypnotic-glowing review in the NY Times, I came away with similar feelings. I was seduced by the food and by the very essence of the room and its intention. I don't know anything about the chef but he has a lot to be proud of. It felt as though I was in Italy, in some magical place with a cuisine of its very own. Grilled succulent octopus with fresh green almonds, candied kumquats, and farro with a drizzle of some yogurty sauce. Who cooks, or thinks, or executes like that? A triumph. As were the hip "fish sticks" (I just made myself lol) of salt cod, re-moistened to perfection, batter-fried and served with a lemony aioli. Note:  I just found out that the "salt cod" is actually "house salted cod" which made the texture so remarkable and alluring. (It's important to do your homework.) Having lunch with Shelley Boris, who owns a sleek catering company in Garrison, New York, and who also is chef of the Garrison Institute, and who has cooked for the Dalai Lama, and was the exec. chef at Dean & Deluca in its heyday, made lunch especially fun. We both thought the tiny crispy artichokes with preserved lemons & parsley looked like a small bouquet of antique flowers; and that the homemade ricotta with sugar snaps, pine nut granola (!), and mint was pristine and "lactate" and the essence of spring. A few drops of acidity would have helped. The spaghetti with bottarga was unctuous in a good way and everything washed down very nicely with a large carafe of rose from Channing Daughters Winery from Bridgehampton. A very pleasant surprise and it went extremely well with the dish that everyone is talking about! A sublime sandwich on crusty homemade bread filled with roast porchetta, arugula and salsa verde. Its herbal, porky juices drip down (or up) your arm. Wonderful sorbetti and gelati, but an exquisite panna cotta with 10-year aged balsamico really stole the show. Years ago I had a version as good -- but not since -- and I wrote about it for the New York Times.  It was made by Meredith Kurtzman who was the pastry chef at Esca at the time. She has been at Otto for some time now. And what about the chef?  Justin Smillie. Definitely a guy to watch. He worked at Barbuto and the Standard Grill which explains some of his cooking majesty -- simple, sophisticated, sensational -- but there is definitely a style to call his own.

I like to eat lunch with friends. And so there were two more this week to enjoy. One was at Jeanne & Gaston on 14th street between 7th and 8th avenues. Created by the chef who owns Madison Bistro, this new boîte is really attractive, as are the Europeans who go for lunch. I hear it's really hopping at night when the big garden is illuminated and beautiful. The place had a real French vibe although the undefinable pastry of the Alsatian Tarte Flambée turned out to be a tortilla. But who cares? Spread with good creme fraiche, slivers of sweet onion and blanched bacon, it tasted delicious after a good crisping in a hot oven.  It made for an ample lunch and was only $12 -- lovely with a glass of wine. My friend's camembert omelet, served with mixed greens and great french fries was only $15. There is a lovely story, and photos, about the chef's (Claude Godard's) grandfather who was a respected chef himself in France. A nice find.

And, as always, a lovely spinach, beet and bucheron salad at Marseille.

Lunch makes dinner improbable some days. Enjoy your tastes of the week.

Tastes of the Week

May 7 thru May 14, 2012 One of the best French-style onion soups I've ever had was shared with 70 others at the Zen Mountain Monastery when I arrived on Friday night. The place, altogether mysterious and tranquil, is a real life Buddhist monastery, complete with strict meditation sessions and communal meals in a welcoming dining room. The chef, who is also a senior monk with many responsibilities, cooks three meals a day for the residents and many guests who come for retreats. The food is delicious. Sankai, the chef, comes from Belgium and describes his soup as more Flemish than French. I am waiting for him to share the recipe (it's in his head at the moment and he has never written it down). Sankai is deserving of a story of his life -- which I hope to write at some point -- as it's a compelling path of a young man's journey from a Benedictine upbringing near Antwerp to life as a Zen monk in Woodstock, New York. Sankai loves to cook and it shows in all the food he prepares. He is a firm believer that the emotions of the cook are transmitted during the preparation of a meal and so if he feels angry or agitated he simply "steps out" of the kitchen until that mood passes.  Something for all of us to think about in our own lives. Highlights of the weekend meals included a glorious quinoa salad with slivers of sorrel, mint, peas, scallions and radishes; fresh beet salad with feta cheese, fennel and blood orange, and a tantalizing chickpea tajine with roasted butternut squash, carrots and onions, flavored with cumin, caraway and coriander seeds, cayenne and paprika. And while some of the dishes have a lovely complexity, others are stunningly simple such as his vinaigrette made with red grapes, good olive oil and red wine vinegar. Three ingredients: It made me smile.  When asked which three cookbooks are most often at his elbow, he replied, "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups," the "Vegetarian Times Cookbook" (most useful, he said, for its organization), and "The Joy of Cooking" where he cuts all the sugar in half. Other adaptations include a recipe for cornbread from "Joy" where instead of flour he substitutes a comparable amount of cooked quinoa. One of my housekeeping chores during my weekend stay was sweeping the large homey kitchen. A meditation in itself.

Last week after the lengthy James Beard Awards at Lincoln Center was a food fest for 1000. While I'm not sure of the actual number of guests, it felt like there was enough food to feed us all. Chefs from all over the country came to cook their hearts out for the award winners, nominees, and the food community at large. Much of the food was really outstanding, served in divine, diminutive portions, inspired by a James Beard recipe of the chef's choice. My favorites:  Jonathan Waxman's Shaved Asparagus & Kale Salad with Caesar dressing and croutons; Nora Pouillon's Mini Cheeseburgers with Dill-Mustard Mayo and Micro Lettuces on a Whole-Grain Pumpkin Seed Bun (inspired by Beard's book "How to Eat Better for Less Money"); Alan Wong's Skewered Lamb Sausage with five-Spice Greek Yogurt, Pickled Red Onions and Jalapeno (inspired by Beard's lamb kebabs in "American Cookery"):  Keith Luce's Farm Egg Custard and Long Island Duckling with Nettle Puree and Spring Alliums (inspired by "Beard on Food"), and Angela Pinkerton's Port-Infused Prunes with Citrus Creme and Candied Violets (inspired by Menus for Entertaining.)  I must say I left feeling pretty inspired...and full.

Last week also marked the birthday celebration for food writer Erica Marcus at abckitchen with Brian Lehrer from WNYC and Steve North from the CBS Morning Show. What didn't we eat?  The caramel ice cream, popcorn, chocolate sauced sundae was a knockout.

Had a wonderful meal at the home of Debbie and Larry Freundlich. Debbie is a fabulous home cook and we loved the super-fresh asparagus soup deepened with garden peas; duck breasts with prunes and wonderful roasted potatoes, sorbet and chocolate oatmeal cookies topped with a few addictive grains of sea salt.

And my husband and I had the true pleasure of sharing a meal with Miles and Lillian Cahn, the creators of Coach (yes, the handbag company) and Coach Farms (the goat cheese company). They are legends in each industry. We had lunch at St. Ambroeus on Madison Avenue. Fabulous bread and superb coffee. Lunch was pretty good, too. Lovely beet-filled ravioli, homemade pasta bolognese. (Very, very expensive.  So glad we did some "sharing").

Enjoy your own tastes of the week.  Be mindful and you'll double the pleasure.  More about "The Sacred Art of Eating" by Roshi Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, another time.

Tastes of the Week

April 30 through May 7, 2012 Embedded in this week of extraordinary tastes was a "gourmet safari" conceived by my friend and colleague, Rashmi Uday Singh from India. Rashmi writes for The Times of India and the Robb Report and was intent on discovering the newest, coolest, trendiest restaurants in the city to write about. It began one beautiful night when Rashmi met me for the 100th birthday celebration dinner at Benoit NYC (more about that later).  We hightailed it to Salinas to experience the imaginatively delicious food of Chef Luis Bollo, who hails from San Sebastian, Spain, considered by many to be a gastronomic mecca. We drank the essence of spring from the end of our spoons with the chef's Gazpacho de Temporada, silken from green tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions.  Then on to a signature offering of Rossejat Rapida , crisped noodles cooked like rice, and studded with chicken, fava bans, chorizo, cockles & saffron aioli.  Deep intoxicating flavors and a compelling texture from this unique method of cooking pasta. Dessert was a mesmerizing portrait of white and dark chocolates topped with manchego foam. I want to go back just to eat this!  From there we went to RedFarm to sample most of the menu, including an awesome sampling of the city's best dumplings -- including the first-rate Pan-fried Lamb Dumplings -- from chef Joe Ng, and what has to be the world's most beautiful salad!  Take a look at the RedFarm website!

The 100th Anniversary dinner at Benoit Here is the beautiful menu, linking the past with the present. Duck foie gras terrine with toasted Parisienne brioche (prepared by Alain Ducasse and Philippe Bertineau); Spring vegetable "pot-au-feu" in duck consomme with fleur de sel (by Chef Michael Anthony); Olive-oil poached east coast halibut in brodetto di crostacei (by Chef Michael White); Larded filet of beef with crispy bone marrow (by Chef April Bloomfield), and an amazing Nougat glace of pistachio ice cream and passion fruit (prepared by Alain Ducasse and Jerome Husson.) I will be writing more about this -- my past memories at Benoit in Paris and the meaning of the new "French restaurant" today -- on the Huffington Post.

A wonderful inexpensive lunch at Aldea:  How do they do it?  A beautiful three-course menu for $24.07. Rustic pork & duck terrine with muscat wine gelee and market greens, skate wing "a la plancha" with slow-roasted cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and caper-butter emulsion, and walnut date cake with mint-infused citrus, vanilla sauce, and lemon sherbet (loved seeing the word sherbet on a menu...so recherche!)

Another beautiful lunch, also reasonably priced at Ciano:  My lunch market menu consisted of a crisp, ultra-fresh Shaved Vegetable Salad with mixed greens, fennel, peppers and ricotta salata, penne with ragu of braised veal, prosciutto and smoked pecorino, and a sorbet of Bosc pear with biscotti.  Perfect.

Lunch today? At my house...with wine expert Carol Berman. We're having a fanciful salad of ten-spiced yogurt chicken, moroccan carrots, blue cheese, charred red peppers and a garam masala vinaigrette. Homemade wine cake (made with lemon, red wine and rosemary.)   Wonder what we'll be drinking?  Maybe fresh mint tea with mint pulled from my window box.  (Although I do have a nice bottle of gewurztraminer chilling right now.)

Enjoy your own tastes of the week.  Be mindful and enjoy!

Tastes of the Week

April 23 through April 30, 2012 It's been a week of excess and pleasure. I often feel that way when we just eat well at home -- trying new ingredients, adapting wonderful recipes to fit our needs, developing ideas for magazine articles, or simply opening that rare "convenience" food like the Butter Chicken we bought at Costco! But this week's tastes came from outside my home and into the kitchens of some of New York's best chefs and into a neighbor's home for a bona fide "Afternoon Tea."  There was lunch at North End Grill (you can read more about it in my blog post "A Chef Among Chefs"), a contemporary new restaurant created by restaurant impresario Danny Meyer and chef Floyd Cardoz. Details of the meal are included there. The restaurant is located on a hidden street where you can peer onto the river across a sweeping grassy knoll -- which is a memorial to Irish immigrants. It will be a wonderful area to explore once the weather is sunny and beckoning.

I am still thinking about an impromptu lunch with Max Falkowitz -- the new New York editor of Serious Eats.  We "dined" at Taboonette (the downtown offspring of the popular restaurant Taboon) and immensely enjoyed the Kruveet (taboon roasted cauliflower, grilled eggplant, hummus, tahini and cilantro), superb pulled pork with fennel-jicama-apple slaw, spicy cilantro mayo and chicharones, and lemon-cured baked salmon with za'atar oil, yogurt sauce, sumac and arugula. Wonderful coffee.

Dinner at RedFarm, Eddie Schoenfeld's new wildly imaginative Chinese-esque restaurant in the West Village. We were delighted to take the food editor and publisher of Israel's most important food magazine, Al Hashulchan, Janna and Ilan Gur. They were enamored by the array of extraordinary dumplings, the Kowloon filet mignon tarts, and Green Thai Curry. 

A beautiful lunch at SD26. It has a very different feel at lunch -- lighter and more whimsical -- and I look forward to the outdoor seating which should appear shortly. The four of us were thrilled with a first course of freshly-flown in burrata surrounded by excellent San Daniele prosciutto. That, and an espresso, might have been enough for us: It was perfection. But we moved onto the house specialty "Uovo" -- soft egg yolk-filled raviolo with truffle butter, homemade fettuccine with coriander-scented lamb ragu, fava beans and fresh mint, and shared a portion of succulent swordfish served with zucchini scapece, eggplant caviar, and fried tomatoes. Great tiramisu with espresso sauce.  And would you believe that a two-course lunch is $28.

Lunch the next day at the Rubin Museum. It is not as good as it used to be but it is still an extraordinary institution (with very exciting programming) and a good place to "hang" if you want to hear your dining companion and sip good "white Earl Grey" tea.

And speaking of tea, it was a lovely surprise to attend a real tea party at the home of a neighbor to hear about the goings-on at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. Tea was poured at 4:00 p.m. and "catered" by Angela who specializes in tea parties! Tiny scones with delicious "raisin butter," cucumber and mint sandwiches, tiny croutes with curried chicken salad, fig pound cake, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and gorgeous truffles that looked like Christmas ornaments! 

I also cooked dinner for friends, but more about that another time.

New: Beginning Wednesdays and Fridays, I will be sharing recipes from my archives! Stay tuned. Enjoy your week.

Tastes of the Week

April 16 to April 22 There were many tastes this week as we got ready for our daughter's Sweet 16 party held at a very cool nightclub called La Pomme: located on West 26th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue. Many tastes were sweet indeed: There were large cupcakes made by the Cake Boss at Carlo's -- his bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. Then there were 250 mini-cupcakes from "Baked by Melissa." Recommended by my sister-in-law, she served them at a party for my brother who is considerably older than my daughter. They are small and sophisticated and great for any age! In each large pizza box, come 100 tiny cupcakes, in a variety of colorful flavors that exhibits like an optical illusion. Wonderful. Eighty teens munched on very credible sliders, sesame chicken skewers, pigs-in-blankets, potato pancakes, chocolate shots, brownies with cream and real raspberries...like that. And even though the chocolate cake we bought was merely to hold up the huge sparklers -- it was nonetheless delicious! What was it? The huge, American All-Chocolate Cake from Costco. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Honestly, I don't know how they can afford to sell some of the things they do at the prices they are. The filet mignon we bought there was also very good: My husband whipped up a birthday dinner for our daughter with an impromptu Bordelaise sauce, a spicy carrot puree and broccoli. We've been celebrating for a week.

While walking around the city on one of the beautifully sunny days last week (in search of heels to go with my daughter's dress), I opted for chunks of freshly-cut mango sold on 14th street (instead of my more usual chocolate-dipped ice cream cone)."A specialty of Mexico," the woman from Ecuador said, the ripe fruit was doused with hot sauce, salt and lemon juice. For $3, it was a great, and very healthy, snack. The bottled lemon juice, however, detracted from the overall freshness of the experience and so next time, I'll bring my own fresh lime to squirt on top.

Scrambled eggs and sushi: That's what we ate early the next morning after the sweet 16 shindig. It was a really cool merger of textures and tastes.

And I'm still dreaming about the butter-free and cheese-less asparagus risotto I had at SD26 last week. Will go again soon...just for that.

Upcoming tastes? Lunch at Danny Meyer and Floyd Cardoz's new North End Grill and dinner at Red Farm this week.

Tastes of the Week

April 8 to April 16, 2012 Several years ago, the revered restaurant San Domenico located on Central Park South moved to East 26th Street across from Madison Park. Owned by father-daughter team, Tony and Marisa May the place was a bit of an enigma -- modernistically designed by Massimo Vignelli, cavernous, and re-named SD26.  My husband had gone for lunch several times, and enjoyed it, but it wasn't until last Friday that I decided to check it out. I had a splendid time, and the risotto was one of the best I've ever had. It certainly was one of the healthiest! Made without the requisite butter and cheese, Mr. May's "new-style" risotto is instead "mounted" with extra-virgin olive oil and stirred until every grain of rice is perfectly cooked, toothsome, and voluptuous. Prepared with fish fumet and white wine, with a touch of garlic, scallion, and herbs, we tried one version with periwinkles (tiny sea snails) and another topped with pencil thin asparagus; the epitome of Spring. It's easy to be skeptical, but easier to be wowed by the pristine quality of the result. We began our meal with paper thin slices of bottarga (a southern Italian delicacy of dried tuna roe) sprinkled with lemon zest and droplets of Sardinian olive oil; and followed our risotto with olive-oil poached cod with polenta taragna, baby calamari & squid ink, accompanied by a few glasses of very good Arneis (a white grape variety from the north of Italy.)  Bomboloni (custard-filled doughnuts), panna cotta with balsamic reduction and strawberries, and zabaione millefoglie with wild berries and caramel sauce, finished our "girl's night out" with great satisfaction. Tony's chef was a fabulous woman, Odette Fada, who for many years was the only three-star female chef in New York. Together we invented olive oil ice cream before anyone did (sometime in the 1980's) for a press event sponsored by the International Olive Oil Council. Today the chefs at SD26 are a trio of very handsome young men; the culinary equivalent of the "three tenors" all hailing from interesting places in Italy. Their food speaks for itself.  I look forward to many more meals at SD26, especially when the outdoor seating opens up and I can pretend I am, once again, dining al fresco en Italia.

We ate lots of delicious things during the two nights of Passover. But perhaps the most delicious, and unusual offering, was a two-ingredient haroses, which got everyone's attention.  It is a Persian version of the symbolic recipe served, with matzoh, to represent the mortar used in Egypt.  Generally is it an amalgam of chopped apples, walnuts, cinnamon, bound together with sweet wine. But this new (or very old) haroses is made with only date honey (or date syrup or date molasses) and lots of finely chopped walnuts.  It is sticky and tar-ry and wonderful to drizzle on almost anything. My approximate recipe is 2 cups date molasses (or date honey) stirred with 3 cups of very finely chopped walnuts. Date honey is the honey mentioned in the Bible (not honey from bees) and can be found in any Middle Eastern market. I will now make it is staple in my pantry. We also enjoyed Arthur Schwartz's wonderful potato kugel and a long-simmering tzimmes made with sour prunes, carrots, sweet potatoes and a generous, succulent chunk of flanken.

Cultural nourishment included the simulcast of Manon Lescaut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (starring Anna Netrebko); and a movie about the artist Gerhard Richter at the Film Forum -- one of my favorite places in the city. They pop their popcorn in peanut oil.

We also ate our first "frozen dinner" in decades:  "Butter Chicken" which we bought at Costco. Butter chicken is a very famous dish in India. This was a great version and we served it alongside a mound of basmati rice and drank tea. Not bad for a weeknight dinner.

May your coming week be filled with great tastes and nourishing experiences.

Tastes of the Week

March 26 through April 2, 2012 You've heard of sour grapes? Try salty grapes! A delicious accident waiting to happen. I had given my daughter some matzoh with butter and salt and put a small bunch of ripe black seedless grapes on her plate. When she was all done and I was about to wash her plate, I popped one of a few salty grapes in my mouth. It was fantastic. Try it.

At the French Culinary Institute on Sunday, my daughter and I helped celebrity chef Bill Telepan prepare a healthy school lunch based on the initiative started by the "Wellness in the Schools" program created by Nancy Easton. We all wanted seconds. Great chili, yellow rice with peas, fresh salads with the BEST homemade french dressing recipe (must get the recipe), cut up oranges, bananas and apples. Cold skim milk. And all on a very slim budget. We had a blast. In the kitchen popped up some of the world's best chefs -- including Andre Soltner from Lutece and Cesare Cella from Salumeria Rosi, both deans of education at the school. But speaking of school lunch programs -- this just in from Sweden:  disco lunch! You listen to great music, dance a bit, grab a sandwich -- and the money goes to charity! Not only is this a great idea but it burns some calories.

Seamus Mullen has made quite a splash as the chef-du-jour at the beloved, crazy-busy restaurant Tertulia in New York's Greenwich Village. We had a fabulous, fun dinner the other night with our friend from Malaysia who oversees 250 hotels in Southeast Asia for Starwood. He is always on the prowl for great new concepts. Dinner began with splendid jamon iberico, pan con tomate (the famous fresh tomato-slathered bread from Barcelona), and a variety of remarkable tapas, including stuffed eggs "devilled" with salt cod, anchovy toasts with pork belly and poached quail egg, deliciously funky wild boar "chorizo," then on to more crisped lamb belly, pesce spada (swordfish), fabulous nuggets of fried sunchokes in a thick sumac-laced citrus yogurt sauce, and a huge paella made with a whole Amish chicken, gorgeously cooked. Soon to be had:  the best Spanish wines from the region of Galicia, brought in by über-wine importer and Spanish wine maven, Gerry Dawes. Lots of foodies for dinner that night and I had a sneak preview of Seamus' new cookbook called Hero Food, which he wrote with Dorothy Kalins (former editor of Saveur and Newsweek.)

The real surprise this week was dinner at the Beagle on Avenue A. An out-of-town friend told us about it and so off we went -- four "girls" for a Saturday night gab-fest on the lower East side. Thanks to Priscilla Martel, co-author of  On Baking: A Textbook of Baking & Pastry Fundamentals (3rd Edition), radio host and WHYY-producer Lari Robling, and Kathy Gold (no relation), founder and executive chef of In the Kitchen Cooking School we shared a remarkably conceived-and-cooked meal. Executive chef Garrett Eagleton needs to be better known and I'm sure that will happen soon. The execution of the Striped Bass with glazed cipollini onions, rock shrimp and "broth" was absolutely perfect, as was my dish of a crispy flattened half chicken served with Irish oats (!), turnips and jus. It tasted positively French and oats are a brilliant starch to play with. I'm sure this will be copied everywhere. The "jus" was voluptuous and reminiscent of the classical stocks that I long for. Also brilliant are the little "pairing boards" of small tastes paired with a tiny "cocktail."  Did I say this was brilliant? Listen to these flavor duets: Pork Belly and Rye -- salt-roasted pork belly, bay leaf yogurt, sauerkrauts and a mini ManhattanBurrata and gin -- burrata, braised celery, parsley, arbequina olive oil, and a mini Martini. Mackerel and aquavit -- pickled mackerel, creamed pickled onion, garlic, caraway cracker and a taste of Aalborg Akvavit. Desserts, other than the very special black olive marshmallow, did not quite live up to the rest of the meal. And the prices are surprisingly reasonable given the quality and generosity of the offerings. I recommend it highly. 

Tastes of the week to come:  A review of Peter Kaminsky's new book, Culinary Intelligence.

Tastes of the Week

March 19 to March 26, 2012 It was all-Italian all-the-time last week with three indelible meals. So here’s an homage to pizza, to pizzazz, to posterity, and to the maestri behind the magic:  Antonio, two Frankies, and Pepe.

Last summer in Naples, we forked out a fistful of Euros to a clueless cab driver while searching for the legendary pizzeria named Starita in the twisty-curvy district of Mater Dei. Of course it was closed. But a version of it recently opened on Manhattan’s easy-to-locate West 50th Street, and there he was, Don Antonio Starita himself, overseeing the grand parade of pizzas in and out of his wood burning oven and, oh, yes, his deep fat fryer. I’ll come back to the fried stuff in a moment.

Antonio has partnered with a former student who also runs the pizzeria Keste in New York and the new place is called Don Antonio by Starita.” We were a party of six celebrating dear friend Arthur Schwartz’s birthday, and I can tell you that every dish was its own celebration. We began with a huge platter of angioletti, which are fried puffy strips of dough topped with marinated cherry tomatoes and arugula, and then onto pizzas chosen by Antonio and not necessarily on the menu.

We went nuts over a two-layer affair stuffed with a mix of sautéed escarole, pine nuts, raisins and ricotta, then topped with wafer-thin dough and fresh mozzarella. For dessert there was a pizza slathered with ricotta, honey and almonds.

But in between these pies came Starita’s justly famous fried pizza – called montanara -- invented there about ten years ago where it simply is called pizza fritte. They drop a round of pizza into hot palm oil and it puffs up into an amazingly light disc (light as in texture; caloric like the dickens), which they top with an intense tomato sauce and imported smoked mozzarella di bufala, and slide it into their oven for finishing. You’re looking at a trend here, mark my words.

We all rolled home to sleep off dinner because there was another the following night, celebrating another friend’s birthday…Erica Marcus, former honcho cookbook editor and now ace food reporter for Newsday. That feast took place at Frankies (no apostrophe – there are two guys named Frank) in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens. We sat at two long tables in a romantically refitted old stable behind the restaurant and took our food from huge platters of antipasti; crostini of chicken liver mousse, delectable eggplant caponata, split fresh sardines en saor, followed by platters of  homemade cavetelli and hot sausage in brown butter;  of ethereal meatballs with pine nuts and raisins;  and robust braciola marinara -- all washed down with an infinity of excellent Barbera.

My husband especially liked Frankies’s opening aperitif, made with gin, Cointreau and lemon juice topped off with prosecco. He reminded me the following morning precisely how many he’d had as we got into the car for a two-hour drive to Yale where our daughter will be attending a high school summer program.  I knew he was worse for wear when he popped a couple of Tums on I-95, which he blamed merely on two days of feasting.

Now Yale is in New Haven, and you don’t drive there without stopping either at Sally’s or Pepe’s, both of which are the town’s equivalent of Starita, both of which bake a thin-and-crispy crust in coal-fired ovens. Yale could wait because we had just enough time for a pepperoni pie (pretty good) and for New Haven’s gastro-gift to the world – the white clam pie, which we had at Pepe’s (Sally’s being closed for lunch). This is a fairly affable assemblage of chunks of chewy clams, a sprinkling of cheese, some oregano, copious dousings of olive oil and enough garlic to eradicate all the witches in Transylvania.  It was an ultimate umami assault on our tastebuds, and while some folk make pilgrimages for the white clam pie, I think it is OK just to make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tonight we’re having broccoli.

Tastes of the Week(s)

February 27 through March 18, 2012 Several weeks have gone by and I haven't shared some of the interesting and, often superlative, tastes that I've had. This "tastes" column is a way for me to both document and re-imagine the experiences, but also an invocation for you to fine tune your own. This is a new era of "mindfulness" for me -- in both cooking and eating -- resulting in far more pleasure and appreciation. As many of you know, I am a student in a program called Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care and I work in an emergency room and on a cancer floor once a week. The very notion of contemplation spills over into everything nowadays -- not just in working with patients. It even extends to the little cafe at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, where I slowly savor my tuna fish sandwich and unexpectedly decent coffee in a weekly ritual, sharing tables with strangers, wondering what the day has been like for them. Mindful eating is now being talked about with much grace -- I enjoy re-reading the wonderful article in the New York Times about it several weeks ago -- but I am also interested in "contemplative cooking" -- that of my own and of others. It is a subject I will be writing much more about.

This installment bridges February and March -- the end of an almost nonexistent winter and very early spring. I had a wonderful lunch last week at Rouge Tomate, a beautiful sprawling modern restaurant on East 60th Street in the city.   Their $29 prix fixe menu was quite a surprise especially because the meal was as enjoyable and professional as one I recently had at Le Bernardin. The chef, Jeremy Bearman, deserves much more attention and I look forward to learning more about him and his philosophy in cooking. Now here is a "contemplative chef!" Every detail of taste, color, harmony, balance and surprise existed in every dish. I started with a Green Tornado (not part of the prix fixe) instead of my usual glass of wine. It was a fabulous quaff blended from tarragon, spinach, basil, butter lettuce (!), mint and lemon juice. Stimulating and satisfying, I could drink these all summer long.  (And doesn't butter lettuce sound divine and fattening?!) The first course, Wild Mushroom and Leek Salad, was a "painting" that also included spring garlic, frisee, Meyer lemon, and a polenta crisp. The main course, Arctic Char a la Plancha, came with black rice (also known as "forbidden rice"), green olives, spring onion, and passion fruit. The passion fruit was expressed by a disk of daikon that was cooked "sous vide" in passion fruit juice. It might have been one of the most exciting tastes I've ever had.  And while the arctic char spent a few too many seconds on the plancha, the dish as a whole was fascinating.  Desserts? A bittersweet chocolate tart, with accents of banana, coconut, lime yogurt and ginger gelato, and Fingerlakes Farms' Yogurt Panna Cotta, with notes of dried cherry, pistachio, orange and kumquat. I want to learn more about the principles of SPE -- which according to the menu is based on a "genuine respect of ingredients and the crafting of balanced dishes that naturally marries extraordinary cuisine and authentic nutrition." The restaurant is committed to support local farms, fisheries, and producers who employ sustainable practices. And while I respect all that, I respect the "mind of the chef" most.

I had a bar of chocolate called Brooklyn Bar from Mast Brothers Chocolates -- a real player on the chocolate scene  -- manufactured in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The flavor profile of this particular variety really got my attention -- red wine and plum.

Vietnamese coffee at the home of Arthur Schwartz. Arthur just returned from a 40-day cruise to Australia and Asia and we went to hear stories of the voyage and sip extraordinary coffee that he brought home from Vietnam. Just a few sniffs of the coffee could send you into orbit. There is nothing else that has that bouquet. Vietnamese coffee is usually served with sweetened condensed milk -- but I love it straight. I, too, was so enamored of it from my own trip to Vietnam five years ago that I put a "recipe" and photo of Vietnamese coffee in my book Radically Simple! The coffee is very expensive and worth it.

Fabulous Spanish wine tasting with Gerry Dawes at Despana in Soho. It's a terrific place to stop into mid-afternoon for a snack. 410 Broome Street. Wonderful tapas and more of that terrific Iberico ham.

Homemade whipped cream! I forgot how delicious it can be. I had leftover heavy cream from an article I was working on and decided to whip it up with confectioners sugar and good vanilla extract. Plopped it on strawberries and crepes we made from Eat Fresh Food:  Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs -- for Sunday brunch.

Have a delicious week!

Tastes of the Week/Tastes of the Future

Feb. 12 thru Feb. 19th, 2012 As I blabbered about being excited to go to RedFarm for dinner, the "happening" new restaurant owned by Chinese food maven, Ed Schoenfeld, I can tell you that the excitement turned into happy eating delirium. The tiny 40-seat restaurant located at 529 Hudson Street (bet. W. 10th and Charles) is darling -- a kind of farm-to-table environment with long communal tables and cozy booths-for-two. Eddie says they turn down at least 500 diners a night (they don't take reservations) but have found a way of "farming" people out to local bars and then texting them when a seat is available. I think the system is working! I fell into the arms of fellow-diner chef Todd English (we've been friends for years) and hung out at the tiny bar, drinking a yuzu caipirinha, until our table was ready.  The chef, Joe Ng, is an urban dumpling legend and we ate a few that were other-worldly -- especially the Black Truffle & Chicken Soup Dumplings that squirt into your bowl, and totally cool green vegetable-chive dumplings. Apparently Chef Eric Ripert and the adorable Bobby Flay also like them since they are frequent RedFarm-ers! Ditto Gael Greene and the rest of NY's food cognoscenti. But there are lots of nice, normal people, too -- including a couple who came all the way from Boston just to eat there. And while the kabocha squash & ricotta bruschetta at abckitchen is one of my favorite "tapas" in all of New York, I have found another favorite in Eddie's smoked salmon & eggplant "bruschetta." Truly fabulous. As was the crisp-skin chicken with garlic sauce, the okra & Thai eggplant yellow curry with flatbread for dunking, and the wok-sauteed conch with scallops and jumbo shrimp which was a special that night. The fresh fruit plate was a work of art (how do they do this in such a small kitchen?) and would you believe the chocolate pudding was first-rate! The food is "new Chinese" with so much style and grace that you may never order in again.

And my husband took me on a date to Patroon -- the beautifully, clubby restaurant in midtown (160 East 46th Street), owned by another of New York's great restaurateurs, Ken Aretsky who used to run the "21 Club." We hadn't been in years and heard that Patroon was recently spruced up! It's fabulous looking (an impressive photography collection graces the walls) and the service is the most professional and affable that we've had in a long time. Not a snooty moment, but it was precision-perfect. The very nice chef, Bill Peet, worked at Lutece for years and remains a close friend of chef/legend André Soltner. It's "the" place to go for Dover sole (filleted tableside) and steak au poivre, and the oyster pan roast was luscious. The "Simply Grilled Fish of the Day" was perfectly-cooked cod over a tangle of the most delicious "roasted" broccoli rabe we've ever had. The place is all-class and feels like the "new 21." Good mango sorbet. Be sure to visit their roof-top bar as soon as the weather gets nice. We hear it's the place to be.

Tastes of the future: Every so often I peruse the events booklet published by the James Beard Foundation as to the "goings-on" at the Beard House (located on West 12th street in NYC) and locations around the county. It provides a snapshot into current "chef thinking" -- re: new flavors, tastes, combinations, and techniques --  a "look-see" into what my peers are cooking these days! Here's a glimpse of hot new ingredients in the March/April issue:  rutabaga sauerkraut, bok choy kimchi, squash butter, tongues, black cod, pork cheeks, hake cheeks, toasted cherry leaves, almond milk, pressed palm seeds, goat milk cream cheese, "beet" steak, tomato "chicharrones," bellies (pork and lamb), freekeh, rabbits, pigs ears, vadouvan spice, and fresh curry leaves. Coming soon to your plate. Enjoy your own tastes of the week.

Dinner at Diva at the Met

As promised, here is the menu from the "world class" meal I had at Diva at the Met located in the Metropolitan Hotel in Vancouver. It was magnificently cooked by Chef Hamid Salimian and orchestrated by sommelier Corey Bauldry. It was a wonderful experience!

amuse bouche

olive oil marshmallow, black olive salt, olive butter diva bacon, parsnip, maple dehydrated brioche, sturgeon caviar nitro gravlax mini pork puffs, tabasco powder, tabasco mayo beef tartare, crispy tendon puffed foie gras, quince, melba toast baked potato, winter truffles, chives frozen cucumber soda

blue mountain brut, okanagan, british columbia nv grapefruit elderflower fizz

1st course

 sunshine coast sturgeon b.c. side striped prawn, dill ash cured scallop, salmon roe, champagne jelly william fevre petit chablis, burgundy, france 2009

2nd course

albacore tuna & dungeness crab yuzu crisp, oyster leaf, cucumber, avocado, soy vinaigrette blasted church, hatfield’s fuse, (gewurztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc, ehrenfelser), okanagan valley, british columbia 2010

3rd course

 pickled winter vegetables blood pudding, bone marrow croquette, trumpets la stella, la stellina, merlot rosato, okanagan valley, british columbia 2009

 4th course

 sweetbreads salsify, pressed onion sherry jus chateau ste. michelle riesling, columbia valley washington 2009

 5th course

 perigord truffle truffle pappardelle, 63º egg, pork belly crouton del fin del mundo, reserva pinot noir, patagonia, argentina 2009

6th course

 sablefish tomato eggplant stew, fennel rocca della macie, sasyr, sangiovese & syrah, igt, toscana, italy 2008


 stilton cheesecake rhubarb, port ganton & larsen prospect winery “the lost bars” vidal icewine, okanagan valley, british columbia, 2009

Diva at the Met Restaurant, 645 Howe Street, Vancouver, BC Y6C 2Y9

Photos of the Week:

Food News & Tastes of the Week

Jan. 30 through Feb. 5, 2012 Done!:  Many of you may remember that when Gourmet magazine was abruptly shut down in December of 2009 there remained 3,500 books that had great value as a collection. I was in a unique position to acquire the books and donate them to New York University in honor of my mother. That collection took more than 2 years to catalogue, with funds provided by Les Dames d'Escoffier and Fales Library and Special Collections at NYU. According to Marvin Taylor, Director of Fales, "As of today (1/19/12), we have completed the cataloging of the Gourmet Libary.  The total number of titles was 6,137. (Not the 3,500 we originally thought!)  It turns out there were boxes and boxes of smaller pamphlets that pushed the numbers up."  So proud that my mother, who inspired and nurtured me in so many ways, is "immortalized" in the cookbooks she loved so well.  The collection is now available for research and posterity.

Starbucks & 1-2-3!:   Beginning tomorrow (2/7/12), Starbucks is doing a promotion with my new e-book called The 1-2-3 Collection.  For one week (ending 2/13/12), 900,000 "gift cards" will appear in 8,000 Starbucks for a free give-away of a fabulous recipe collection called  Quick & Easy Recipes 1-2-3. The e-book, featuring 50 exclusive recipes, will be featured as the Pick of the Week.

Opening!: According to food maven, Arthur Schwartz, Starita in Naples, Italy is considered by many to be the best place for pizza in all of Italy (well, certainly Naples!) When we were there last August, we took a $30 cab ride to find it, in a rather obscure neighborhood, only to find it closed! Quite by accident on my way to see "Freud's Last Session," I stumbled upon a new (not yet opened) restaurant called Da Antonio -- which, turns out, is owned by the owners of Starita! Great surprise. It is due to open this week and is located at 309 West 50th Street. The spice man cometh!Lior Lev Sercarz is one of the most interesting guys I've met in awhile. The Israeli-born, French-trained chef is the "artiste" behind a spice shop-cum-gallery in Hell's Kitchen where he roasts, toasts and blends hundreds of worldly spices into magical powders for famous chefs. He will also work with home cooks to develop customized blends as aromatic and personal as Cleopatra's perfume. He is incredibly knowledgeable and clearly onto a new "form" that blends the worlds of culture, craft, and cooking.  His store, La Boite, is located at 724 11th Avenue (bet. 51st and 52nd streets). It is open for viewing, sniffing, consultations and chatting (spice therapy as he called it) from Wednesday through Friday, from 3 to 7 p.m.  Lior spent years in the kitchen of Daniel Boulud and studied under storied chefs in Belgium and France. Louise McCready in Nomad Editions wrote a wonderful, in-depth article about him which I know you will enjoy. I look forward to spending more time with Lior -- the genial Willy Wonka of the spice & biscuit trade.

Great food & it's Kosher!:  Azuri Cafe on West 51st street has an interesting pedigree. Considered a bit of a dump, with only 12 rather rickety seats, it has a "26" rating in Zagat -- only 1 point less than Babbo! I was determined to try it. It is very, very good -- delicious, fun, unexpected. The owner, who has a reputation for surliness, is actually very charming and nice. Born in Israel, his food is authentic and so tasty. Generous portions and great homemade green hot sauce! Recommendations:  Fried cauliflower to begin, bourekas with tahina and hot sauce, a fabulous over-stuffed chicken schwarma pita, and a overflowing platter of ground meat kebab, accompanied by salad, hummus and excellent babaganoush. Many thanks to my friend Steve North who took me there for a rather belated birthday celebration.

A totally new taste!: My first taste of oyster leaf, experienced last week at the world-class Diva at the Met in Vancouver, was startling. Not unlike my first nibble at a fresh shiso leaf, the oyster leaf tastes not only like oysters but like a sip of fresh ocean water to the 10th degree. Oh my gosh. Supposedly these leaves, which look a bit like spinach, made their first appearance at El Bulli in San Sebastian. The verdant leaves, salty as the sea, absorb the salt from the soil to prevent them from freezing. Generally grown in Europe, they will soon pop up on more and more menus in America. Not only a prediction, but a wish.

Tomorrow!:  View the entire menu (with wine pairings) from my remarkable dinner at Diva, and enjoy some snapshots of the "tastes of the week."

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.

Tastes of the Week

December 13 through December 19th, 2011

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. With a jolt of electricity in the air, and a frosty chill too, my body and spirit began to crave lustier fare this week, including some wintery dishes from France, Italy and Poland!

At the trendy, tiny Buvette in Greenwich Village, one supped on “small plates” offered no where else in the city. This is the personal food of chef Jody Williams, reflected in the vim, vigor and professionalism of the staff who are clearly jazzed to be working there.

Accompanying our jammy red wine from Sicily and an alluring French cabernet, a dear friend and I (on the eve of her birthday), shared shredded oxtails on toast (the French equivalent of ropa vieja), creamy aligot – a peasanty French recipe made from cantal cheese and potato; wonderful onion focaccia, a voluptuous cauliflower gratin with a burnished copperedcheese crust, a thick soppy porridge of tiny lentils and kale, and the most amazing “sticks” of salsify cooked in red wine and honey which we decided could suffice as dessert. Although not sweet, it satisfied the urge for an uplifting taste of something supernal at the end of one’s meal, and it proved to be the perfect foil for the last dregs of our own red wine. It’s a bit of Left Bank in our very own city.

At Bell’s Mansion in Stanhope, New Jersey, my best friend Arthur Schwartz (the food maven) and I did a holiday book signing this week at the invitation of Jack and Maria Kaczynski, the affable, generous owners of this beautiful restaurant, garden and orchard. It may be one of the best examples of the newest trend of “hyper-locavorism” – where chefs and owners are not only buying local ingredients but growing their own vegetables, planting their own fruit trees, and in the case of Bells Mansion, smoking their own kielbasa, tuna, and salmon, and pan-frying thousands of homemade pierogies to order. They are simply the best we’ve ever had. Due to the oncoming winter season, and our endless curiosity, Maria prepared two authentically Polish dishes for us. One was zurek (also known as white borscht), thickened with “sour starter” and made with a lusty pork broth, fresh marjoram, and some of that divine smoked kielbasa. We were also feted with kapusniak – another voluptuous soup – this one made from meltingly-tender smoked pork ribs and sauerkraut. The mesmerizing flavors of Italian, new American, and Polish delicacies befit the lovely holiday decorations in the mansion’s historic rooms. You might consider it for Christmas Eve or any time during the holiday week.

Another place to experience the holidays – this time in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is at the hyper-trendy Brooklyn Winery – yes, a real winery where you can even make your own wine. More fun than a barrel of monkeys, you can become an oenologist in just a few months under the tutelage of the owner Brian Leventhal, and the winemaker Conor McCormack­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ who once worked at California’s esteemed Rutherford Hill Winery and at San Francisco’s successful wine-making playground Crash Pad. Also impressive was the food I wolfed down at a holiday party: I couldn’t get enough of the spice-crusted shrimp with saffron aioli, the great array of salumi, the best eggplant salad I’ve ever had, and fabulous meatballs made with lamb, pork belly and feta cheese.  The chef Brian Pierce (by way of Williamsburg “Radish” restaurant), is certainly a player.

But today brought a taste of warm sunshine, as I sipped fresh pineapple juice over ice at Club Med’s Sandpiper Resort in Florida. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Tastes of the Week

Dec. 5 through Dec. 11th, 2011 Without a doubt, the taste of the week was the hand-sliced "5J Jabugo de Bellota" ham from Spain, meticulously carved by a master ham-slicer, also known as a cortador, at a private tasting last week. There is great romance around the entire production of the beloved 100% pure bred Iberico pig of Spain. Unique in myriad ways, it's worthy of a taste of your own. Read more about it.

I made a cake from Arthur Schwartz's wonderful and encyclopedic book Naples at Table, while I listened to the soundtrack from John Turturro's voluptuous film Passione. Talk about having a good time (by yourself!) The cake is the famous Torta Caprese from the Amalfi region of southern Italy, which we enjoyed this summer during our trip to Ravello, Atrani, and Amalfi. The cake is flourless and based on an abundance of ground almonds. I had a hankering to make it for company this weekend. I added some espresso powder (not an authentic but a still-in-the-vernacular touch) and served it with my own homemade chocolate sorbet. Recipe below. But you might have to browse Arthur's book, or website, for his marvelous torta.

To celebrate the completion of several years of research and a voluminous manuscript about a beloved food personality, we toasted our colleague, the author, with a bottle of 2000 Moet and Chandon champagne. The champagne was a beautiful golden color with yeasty complexity, honeyed tones and bright acidity. If only all champagne tasted this way! A perfect match with still-warm slices of smoked ham meticulously cut by another master ham-slicer (my husband), and my homemade tapenade whose salinity was softened by sweet butter and a touch of brandy. To finish? Deeply flavored espresso and amazing chocolate-covered pecans from Blue Apron gourmet food store in Park Slope -- a gift from our guest.

Another house gift, this time from my brother and his wife, was a box of the best Italian cookies from Giorgio's Bakery in Hoboken. They are famous for their cannoli and pignoli cookies, but I now love their chocolate-enrobed spice cookies (I don't know their official name but they taste like Christmas) and almond-studded quaresimali (biscotti).

There might be nothing more refreshing to drink than freshly-squeezed pink-hued grapefruit juice! At a breakfast I hosted at my home this week for students in my class (Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care), someone brought a jug of the said juice from Lambeth Groves. OMG! The brand is available at the famous Park Slope Co-op and, I imagine, many other places, too. Located in Vero Beach, Florida you can find out more about it by calling 1-800-JUICE-4-U. It's been a long time since I've even thought about grapefruit juice. So glad to get re-acquainted.

And since it's "the season," I enjoyed two wonderful dinners in town last week.  A superlative holiday hosted by Les Dames d'Escoffier at the glamorous Barbetta restaurant in the theatre district. The cannelloni alone were "da morire" (to die for) as was the risotto, braised beef in Barolo and many other specialities from the Piedmont region of Italy.

And there was the Indian feast for four at Tulsi, the Michelin-starred midtown restaurant owned by the great tandoori master and lovable chef, Hemant Mathur. I believe we consumed the entire menu (well, almost!) and savored the tandoori lamb chops, dum biryani -- a "time honored Mughal rice dish, slowly baked in a Handi pot sealed with naan dough" -- made with goat, ginger, cardamom, mace & saffron, lamb nargisi kofta (with cashew nut sauce and cumin-greep pea quinoa), black pepper and coconut shrimp, and masala ceviche (with citrus, green chile, cilantro and gun powder (!)...for starters.

Tomorrow I'll eat yogurt.

My Homemade Chocolate Sorbet You don't need a fancy ice cream maker. I make this in a $30 Donvier (just make sure the canister, and the chocolate mixture, are very cold) before starting to churn. If not eating right away, let the sorbet soften a little before serving.

3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup dark corn syrup 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder 4 ounces semisweet chocolate 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder pinch of salt

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder, and 1-1/2 cups water in a large saucepan. Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute, whisking.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate, the espresso powder, a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup water. Stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the mixture into a blender and process 1 minute, until smooth. Refrigerate the mixture until very cold. Stir briskly and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Serves 6

Tastes of the Week

November 28 through December 5 This week's tastes bridge a change in the calendar as well as a change in attitude. There is the seismic shift from ordinary food to the ritualistic fare that graced our family tables on Thanksgiving. It will continue in the weeks to come as we buy our prime ribs and smoked hams, peel potatoes (and a bit of our finger) for making latkes, start baking a thousand Christmas cookies as my friend Judy Rundel has done for 30 years, find a credible fruit cake, send honeybells from Florida to friends as gifts, clip new holiday dishes to try, while we preserve our unique heritages with tattered family recipes. With the holiday lights now flickering on every street corner, we observe piles of tangerines in the stores, Christmas trees and poinsettias lining the sidewalks, and a whiff of holiday expectation in the air.

Even restaurant going this week had a sense of the season. A meal at the venerated Four Seasons restaurant, located in the Seagrams building, always has a bit of festivity about it -- especially in the Grill Room during lunch. Eating across the way from Ralph Lauren, it was festive indeed to dive into a puddle of creamy polenta topped with a small poached egg and a shower of shaved truffles; followed by fluke sashimi with lemongrass, steelhead salmon with wild mushrooms and green beans with an almond-caper beurre noisette (a nutty brown butter sauce), and sauteed Arctic char -- an unappreciated fish as I see it -- accompanied by salsify (an unappreciated root vegetable!), mizuna, and a truffle sauce. Disks of key lime pie and walnut tart were a gastronomic kick-off to the holidays.

Another indication that the holidays are upon us is the level of activity in New York on Saturday night:  We had an impossible time trying to get reservations, anywhere!  After two hours of searching and relying on Open Table, we found ourselves at a very good, acoustically comfortable (yet very busy) restaurant on the corner of Thompson and Spring street in Soho. Few know the chef, or owner, and it is hardly a venue in which to see or be seen, however we enjoyed it very much --  primarily for those reasons, but also because the food was unexpectedly delicious and we had wonderful service, from a staff that hailed from Poland, India and Sicily. Also unexpected was a quiet table in the corner near the window overlooking the bustle of New York night life.  We devoured creamy burrata (a cheese from the south of Italy) with excellent tomatoes (from where I wonder?), terrific fried calamari with "strings" of crispy fried vegetables, fabulously toothsome spaghetti with a sauce of fresh clams (really cockles) zucchini, olive oil and spicy garlic; mixed homemade sweet and spicy sausage with lentils, squash and broccoli rabe; filet of king salmon with a mustard sauce, celery root (another unappreciated veg!) and asparagus (thick, meaty and fresh from somewhere). My husband enjoyed his pasta special laden with duck and we toasted his prowess, and patience, in finding such an unassuming spot. Oh yes, the restaurant is called Savore. The executive chef is Francesca Bergamini and the Chef is Edilberto Soriano.

And now begins a slew of holiday recipes to get you in the mood.  Here's a sugar-coated, crackling holiday ham which will trigger mouthwatering desire. Elemental in its flavors -- salty, sweet, sharp, aromatic, its simple cooking technique keeps it moist and succulent.

Sugar-Coated, Crackling Holiday Ham

10-pound smoked ready-to-cook ham, shank portion 1 cup coarse-grain mustard (such as Pommery) 1/4 cup bourbon 1 cup sugar 1-1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons ground cardamom kumquats with their leaves, for garnishing

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place ham in a shallow roasting pan and add 1/8 inch water to the pan. Cover ham with foil and bake 2-1/2 hours. Remove ham from oven and increase temperature to 450 degrees. Pour most of the fat from the pan. Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, remove the rind, except for the area around the shank bone, and most of the fat. Score the remaining fat by cutting diagonal slashes in a diamond pattern. Stir together mustard and bourbon and cover the surface thickly with the mixture. Stir together sugar, cinnamon and cardamom and coat the ham, patting down to cover completely. Add freshly ground black pepper and return to the oven for 25 minutes until the sugar melts and hardens: it will become a bit crackly. Present on a large platter and decorate with kumquats with their leaves. Carve and serve while hot. Serves 12