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."

The Best Rib Roast

Several readers requested the recipe for the Rib-Eye Roast mentioned in yesterday's Hanukkah blog.  The editors at Gourmet magazine, where the recipe first appeared, had this to say about that..."A wonderfully salty exterior and a hint of dill make this easy-to-prepare roast one of the best we've ever tasted."  I'm not sure how this idea first came to me, to "cure" a hunk of raw beef in the same way you would cure a tranche of salmon, gravlax-style. What was I thinking?  Perhaps I imagined a kind of carpaccio that could be sliced paper-thin and served raw.  But I nixed that idea and decided to roast the meat instead:  the method produced very juicy, vibrant red flesh with a slightly caramelized, herbaceous crust.  And it is stunningly simple to make.  The most difficult part of this recipe, it seems, is to get the right piece of meat.  In the Gourmet recipe I used  a rib-eye roast that had plenty of marbling.  Retooled for Radically Simple (11 years later), I used a boneless rib roast. No one in my neighborhood seemed able to accommodate my request for a 3-1/2 pound rib-eye, rolled and tied.  Whichever cut you find, however, will yield great results.

Gravlax, a Scandanavian preparation usually meant for salmon, literally means "buried" in a mixture of coarse salt, sugar, fresh dill, and cracked black pepper.  According to the Oxford Companion of Food, the preparation can be traced back to 1348.  The salmon is wrapped in plastic and weighted down for a period of 24 hours to three days.  Not only does the flavor get absorbed but the texture is altered as most of the inherent liquid is released to become a kind of brine.  I apply exactly the same method to the meat.  With gravlax, the salmon is served uncooked.  In my recipe, the beef is roasted at 400 degrees for approximately 1-1/4 hours at which time perfection is achieved.

Start your prep one day in advance and make sure the meat is at room temperature before you cook it.  You might want to try it during one of the remaining nights of Hanukkah because it is delicious with latkes.

Rib Roast in the Style of Gravlax 1/4 cup kosher salt 3 tablespoons sugar 1-1/2 teaspoons coarsely cracked black pepper 3-1/2 pound boneless rib roast, rolled and tied 1 cup chopped fresh dill

Stir together the salt, sugar, and pepper in a small bowl; rub all over the beef.  Put the dill over the salt mixture.  Wrap the beef tightly in plastic wrap.  Make a small hole in the bottom of the plastic so that any liquid around the beef can drain.  Place in a small roasting pan and weight down with a baking sheet topped with a few large heavy cans. Refrigerate 24 hours.  Unwrap the beef; let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Scrape the coating off the beef and pat dry with paper towels.  Place in a shallow roasting pan.  Roast in the middle of the oven 1-1/4 hours; until an instant-read thermometer registers 130 degrees for medium-rare.  Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil.  Let rest 10 to 15 minutes.  Carve as desired.  Serves 8

Cookbooks Are Us

As many of you know, when Gourmet Library was suddenly shuttered, there remained a scholarly collection of more than 3500 cookbooks whose fate was undetermined.  Within the food community there was great concern about what was to happen.  Either someone buys the collection or regrettably the collection would be  broken up and each book sold for $4. The real value in keeping books together is their "curated content"  (a phrase I learned yesterday at the Publishers Weekly seminar).  I had the opportunity, and honor, to be the one to buy the collection and donate it to New York University in honor of my beautiful mother, Marion Gold.  She was the one who encouraged me, at a time when women were anathema in professional kitchens, to pursue my passion.   In 1976 I dropped out of graduate school (at New York University, no less!) and cooked in any kitchen that would have me. In 1978, I became, at age 23, the first chef to New York Mayor Ed Koch and lived in Gracie Mansion. And yes, it all started with a cookbook.  One that I carried around with me since I was five.  I don't think it was the "Joy of Cooking" but a simple "Golden Book" my mother had given me.  How I long to have that book in my library at home!  As I learned yesterday, cookbook sales are steady and strong, despite the millions of recipes available on the Internet.  I encourage you to read the lovely comment made yesterday by "Barn" (see comments below.) It best describes the reason there will always be a market for cookbooks.  For it is the experience we crave, not merely the mechanics of preparing a dish.

She says, "There isn't anything I enjoyed more after a long day than a cookbook on my lap and a cup of tea by my side.  As I flipped through the pages carefully considering each recipe, not only did I visualize myself cooking the dish when I would eventually get the time, but as I read the list of ingredients I could taste it."  Thank you, Barn, for sharing that.

So, too, are some of my happiest moments, even to this day.  Curled up in bed reading a book -- one of those special ones that creates a sense of longing and connects us to some ancient hunger.

I also want to thank Gerd Stern who commented on the inclusion of Neruda in my poem, for Mr. Stern is one of the great poets and multi-media artists alive today. And if that's not enough, he was also president of the American Cheese Society.  A man after my own heart.

What I learned yesterday:  The average cookbook has 225 recipes.  In order for cookbook publishing to thrive, publishers need to monetize recipes outside the book.  E-books are definitely on their way into our kitchens but their quality must be improved.  Will Schwalbe, founder and CEO of, said that the real competition of cookbooks was Jet Blue, Dr. Spock, and the local gym.  People don't read on planes anymore (they watch the news); parents actually spend time with their kids (and aren't reading), and they spend their free time at the gym (and aren't reading.)  The future?  People will have very sophisticated, high-quality printers at home and will be able to print books at a moment's notice.

Your turn:  Let me know which cookbook -- old or new -- has brought you the most pleasure.

Dish of the day:  In honor of Gerd, this is one of the most delicious cheese and fruit combinations I've discovered: Aged Gouda (as old as you can find it) and moist, fleshy Medjool dates.