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(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

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

October 23 through October 30, 2011 First taste treat goes to the mushroom pizza I had last night at my high school reunion at Sue Schwartz and Howard Muchnick's beautiful apartment on East End Avenue. For take-out, it wasn't bad. Rather great, really. But maybe it was the wine, or the nostalgia, being with friends I haven't seen in 42 years. Friends from Fresh Meadows, Queens, New York --where I spent my childhood. Fresh Meadows is the subject of a marvelous new book called "Fresh Meadows" -- part of the "Images of America" series created by Arcadia Publishing. Written by Fred Cantor and Debra L. Davidson, it pays homage to what Paul Goldberger called "the quintessential suburban housing complex." Thirty years prior, Lewis Mumford hailed the community as "perhaps the most positive and exhilarating example of large-scale community planning in this country." It was where I cooked at my mother's knee for almost 50 years.

And here's a vicarious taste experience. My husband and his best friend Bob Kern had lunch at Ciano this week. They loved it and thoroughly enjoyed the food, the focaccia gently warmed in the fireplace, and the human warmth of the maitre d' who chatted them up, poured their wine, and brought them more good bread. Three excellent dishes:  a casserole of Tuscan beans, smoked fennel sausage and garlicky breadcrumbs; fusilli with broccoli rabe and sweet sausage in a creamy sauce of that broccoli; and  a thick slab of roasted eggplant “Amatriciana” topped with cured pork cheek, tomato and pepperoncini.  Super-star chef Shea Gallante is the man at the stove. Prix fixe lunch (for three courses) is an awesome $20.95. You just can't beat that.                           

That same day I was having lunch with my good friend Robin Adelson Shinder, executive director of the Children's Book Council and the Every Child A Reader national program. We had lunch at the newly opened Kibo restaurant on East 18th Street. Kibo is another flag in the kingdom of Steve Hanson's restaurant empire -- which include eateries such as Blue Water Grill, Atlantic Grill, Bill’s Burger Bar and Dos Caminos . Our waiter, David, was a rock star who was so professional at orchestrating our meal and sharing a bit about himself. He had just passed his bar exam (no, not a mixologist but to be an attorney) and his positive energy added lots of fun to the experience. We began with spicy, salt-licked fried shishito peppers, a refreshing japanese cucumber appetizer, and good-enough ramen noodles in a porky broth that needed a bit of the chili paste that accompanied it. The items from the robata grill were the real thrill, however, and I wish there were more of those on the menu! We had the filet (steak), chicken, and huge perfectly-cooked shrimp with a dab of kimchee aioli. I could easily put the chicken on the very top of my favorite tastes this year.

Desserts were Japanese-inspired, yet decidedly American, and very delicious. A green tea panna cotta with smoky almonds, and a wonderful pumpkin tofu cheesecake with bananas and salted caramel ice cream anchored by what looked like crushed malted milk balls. The consulting chef on this lovely, big project was, unexpectedly, one of the most respected chefs in the world, Joel Robuchon, who has more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world. Amazing, really. And while the essence of Robuchon is French, he does own a Japanese restaurant in Monaco, called Yoshi. There is a simple price-fixed lunch offered at the remarkable price of $14.95 for two courses. The front-of-the-house personnel, btw, are better-trained, and more charming, than most anywhere. At night, I hear, Kibo becomes an energized, public/private club with DJ and all, and lots of people popping champagne corks. I, myself, will stick to the affordable, thirst-quenching, chilled sake on draft, and go again for lunch.

Bargain breakfast at L'Express on Park Avenue South and 20th street. For almost 10 years now, I use this wonderful bustling French bistro as my "city office." I order a "tartine" -- which is nothing more than a 1-1/2 foot long slender slice of well-toasted baguette.  Butter and orange marmalade (which you must ask for), on the side. It reminds me of the days in Paris when I stayed near the Sorbonne at the Hotel Pierwige for $9 a night. They too served well-toasted baguettes in the morning. Unlimited pour of very good coffee. See you there.

Late afternoon snack at abckitchen -- in the back parlour -- where they offer a limited menu and lots of interesting things to drink between regular meal times. Very nice to sip fresh mint tea (Moroccan-style), drink coconut water, share their famous roasted carrot salad, and nibble on cookies. It's like eating in a museum cafe; there is just no store like abc home in the whole wide world.

As promised, last Sunday, our pot luck dinner with friends, including Susy Davidson, exec. dir. of the Julia Child Foundation, at the home of Pat and John Duffy, included copious amounts of smoked salmon and sturgeon from Russ & Daughters, espresso-sized cups of chilled beet soup with creme fraiche and grated lemon, coffee-and-chipotle braised shortribs, a creamy potato gratin, roasted Brussels sprout with bacon, a yummy salad with toasted walnuts and pickled onions, and a beautiful apple tart in a shortbread crust, made by Debbie Freundlich (editor, with Susy of American Express's Briefing Magazine who just happens to be the mother-in-law of Julianne Moore.)

Wishing you good tastes this week.

Tastes of the Week

October 16 through October 23, 2011 This past week was an embarrassment of riches at the table. And while I really like eating home best, there is nothing quite like sharing an excellent meal with a friend. At lunch, three hours seems to be the golden rule for maximum pleasure. Dinner is nothing short of four. This is a luxury for me but one that I love. We have a little joke, my husband and me. When I call late at night to check in and say hi (or good-night as the case may be), his first question is always, "Have you ordered yet?" We always laugh. Yes, Michael, I reply. "I'm on the way home."

For a nice mid-afternoon Sunday lunch for my brother and a dear friend who is an eminent food writer for Newsday, I prepared a radically simple meal of Chilled Beet Soup with Creme Fraiche and Lemon Zest, and, my "go to" recipe for Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage and Gin, accompanied by a potato gratin. Dessert? A new one for me -- a lemon tart from Thomas Keller. I swapped walnuts for the pine nuts in the ethereal crust and it worked!  (Check out Radically Simple for my recipes and go to Epicurious for the Keller lemon tart.) I served the tart with a small cookie made from extra crust, topped with a tiny scoop of my lemon buttermilk ice cream (only 3 ingredients!)

A celebratory feast at the Taj Pierre Hotel in New York for the launch of a remarkable book "The Taj at Apollo Bunder." Hundreds of guests, thousands of orchids and festival lights to honor Diwali -- an important Hindu holiday. Amazing Indian and southeast Asian things to eat which I will describe at length in another post.

Dinner at Del Posto with my wonderful young cousin Josh Rovner who is the head of training in revenue management for Hilton. He loves to eat in four-star restaurants and we chose the crown jewel in the Bastianich-Batali kingdom. Here's the menu cooked by chef Mark Ladner:  Abalone Carpaccio with Grilled Asparagus & Young Ramps; Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Jalapeno & Minced Scallion: Yesterday's 100-layer Lasagne alla Piastra; Young Lamb alla Romana, Garlic Yogurt with Ceci & Swiss Chard Ragu; Sardinian Lamb & Roman Artichokes, Bruised Mint & Saffron Potatoes; Sour Apricot & Toasted Cashew Coppettina, Sfera di Caprino with celery, fig agrodolce & celery sorbetto; Sunchoke crema with gelato al lievito. What can I say? Worth it. Unexpected visits from Lidia Bastianich and also Joe. Drank their wine.

Lunch at rooftop at Eataly at La Birreria on a very sunny but slightly chilly afternoon. Their space heaters really work but bring a sweater or a pashmina anyway. My favorite new lunch: Whole roasted Maiitake mushrooms with Pecorino Sardo crema, asparagus and peas;  a salad of chopped mixed kale, grapefruit, poppy seed frico with anchovy vinaigrette; and nubby, fatty, divine housemade cotechino with their signature coarsely-cut kraut. Doppio espresso.

Brunch at Barbounia with psychoanalyst friend (specializes in teenage girls -- very helpful because we have one!). This has got to be the hippest, happening brunch in town, especially on a Saturday. Everything looked so good! You can linger for four hours (like we did!) over a mountain of mezze but the green shakshuka, the 1-inch high pancakes, the gigantic fresh salads all looked fabulous. Please save room for the kadayifi dessert -- layered with warm cheese, rose water syrup and kulfi ice cream. Oh my gosh.

Village Zendo --  cocktail reception with lovely southeast Asian offerings by the Communal Table catering (nycommunaltable.blogspot.com) -- to learn about the efforts of Michael Daube, director of Citta -- an organization that builds schools, hospitals and orphanages in the poorest areas of the world including Nepal, India and Chiapas (citta.org).  Talks, slides and lovely photos of the children in Nepal waiting for a school to be built. Bought an ebulllient drawing by 8-year old Tenzin Thiley who looks like a happy, handsome kid.

Dinner at Paros -- a new Greek restaurant in Park Slope. Good place for a bottle of Greek wine (a new-to-me delicious dry red -- Naoussa Chrisohoou 2008) and a salad. Wonderful waiters, even Saturday night Greek music and a lovely singer. Read between the lines.

A late-afternoon coffee at Nespresso Boutique in Soho (92 Prince St.) -- a great place to crash with comfortable tables and chairs. Good espresso but the latte machiatto really looked fabulous.

Dinner tonight at the Duffy's -- with Susy Davidson, the executive director of the Julia Child Foundation, and a few wonderful friends -- old and new. It's a pot luck and we're all bringing something. More about that next week.

May your coming week be full of good taste (and tastes.)

Tastes of the Week

October 9 through October 16, 2011 As promised, below, is the recipe for the salmon dish featured in Al Hashulchan -- Israel's number one food mag. It was chosen as the best of the 100 recipes offered in this month's issue. Lovely with a glass of sauvignon blanc to integrate all the flavors.

A lovely vegan carrot cake at GustOrganics on 6th Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. Good coffee, too. It's an interesting place -- an open-to-the-street cafe -- full of plants and wooden tables with an appealing full menu if you happen to be in the neighborhood; or happen to be a vegan!

Lunch with the beautiful Ellie Krieger of Food Network fame at Boulud Sud. It was a wonderful meal that made me wistful for the first New York restaurant that fused the flavors of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It was actually a restaurant I created for a client more than 25 years ago when I was chef/director of the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co. The restaurant, which still exists, was called Cafe Greco and Tom Valenti (of upper west side fame) was our first chef. Times have changed yet my prediction about Med-Rim cuisine is happening. Daniel Boulud did a masterful job incorporating the flavors of za'atar, ras el hanout, tahini, eggplant, chickpeas, a baccala-inspired falafel, and much more, into his beautiful French style of cooking.

We had one of the best and most celebratory lunches imaginable at the Four Seasons restaurant on East 52nd Street. We hadn't been for so many years and wondered why. The Grill Room at lunch is "the place to be and be seen." While Kissenger and I.M. Pei were clearly out of town, there were power-broker tables for sure. But the real pleasure was the food. It felt contemporary yet nostalgic, for its essence reminded me of the food I have been longing for.  Extraordinary bay scallops (the real ones!) on polenta with a truffle sauce; grilled octopus (so tender it melted on your tongue) with a lovely bean and tapenade salad hidden under a tuft of arugula; a fabulous lobster bisque (when was the last time you had that?), a beautiful offering of striped bass with autumn vegetables in a chorizo-mussel broth, and much more to be shared in a future story.

And I was "gifted" today with a steak from our friend Erica, who bought it at the brand new, everybody's talkin' about, butcher-shop, Fleischer's on 5th Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope. It is their signature steak, "sirloin top." And my brother brought me a box of the best pignoli cookies made this side of Rome, from Giorgio's bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey.

If you're at a farmer's market this week, look for the tiny heirloom eggplants that I spotted at the market near Lincoln Center. Some of them were round and bright red, all different colors and tiny shapes and sizes. They looked like marzipan. Exciting times for vegetables!

Okay, this blog is so long, please look for the recipe tomorrow on this site -- with a photo!

Tastes of the Week

Sept 18 through Sept. 25 As the "social" season begins, there are lots of new restaurants opening in New York and some of them are very exciting: Two that come to mind are Saxon + Parole on the Bowery and Bleeker, and a vibrant new cevicheria called La Mar  located in the space that was once Tabla. La Mar is owned by the great Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, who has 12 locations around the world. As my globetrotting husband, international restaurant consultant, predicted several years ago, Peruvian food would become a major trend.

Fabulous crispy nuggets of fried fluke roe (amazing texture) and flavor.  The "special of the day" at La Mar.

Tiradito (Peru's version of sashimi) -- thinly sliced raw fish with a variety of sauces:  We tried "chifa" -- wild salmon belly and cilantro with passion fruit leche de tigre. I have a recipe for tiradito in my newest book, Radically Simple. See recipe below.

The best sampling of hams and cured pork products ever at Saxon + Parole. Also outstanding: portabello mushroom mousse with whiskey and truffle jelly, hand-cut salmon tartare with roasted peppers, capers & quail egg, whole roasted branzino, cauliflower & gruyere gratin.

At the gala benefit for SHARE at Abigail Kirsch's Pier 60, sampled some of the best bites from New York's great women chefs: especially loved the duck "filet mignon" with truffle mousse and balsamic reduction, Gabrielle Hamilton's crostini of Valdeon blue cheese (from Spain) topped with a shaved radish, celery and fennel salad, and Barbara Sibley's (La Palapa) salmon and mango ceviche toastaditas with hibiscus syrup & serrano oil.

A savory zucchini and gruyere muffin at Sweet Melissa's in Park Slope.

And a terrific lattice apple pie from Costco! Last time it had too much cinnamon; this time it is perfect. Tiradito (adapted from Radically Simple) Begin with thin slices of impeccably fresh raw fish and top with my tart elixir of a whole pureed lemon, olive oil, and garlic.

12 ounces raw halibut or red snapper, sliced paper thin 1 small lemon 1/2 cup olive oil 1 medium clove garlic 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives handful of tender mesclun, mache or pea shoots

Arrange the fish slices in a tight circle without overlapping in the center of 4 large plates. Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt. With a small, sharp knife, cut the rind and pith from the lemon; quarter the flesh and remove the seeds. Process the lemon (including the rind and the), oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender until very smooth. Spoon the dressing over the fish to coat completely. Sprinkle with chives and coarsely cracked black pepper.  Garnish plates with mesclun, mache or pea shoots. Serves 4

Tastes of the Week

August 28 through September 4 A resounding Labor Day dinner cooked by Gerry Dawes, celebrated authority of all things Spanish -- mostly food, wine, culture, and chefs -- the most authentic gazpacho ever (read more about it tomorrow), a seafood & chorizo paella cooked on the grill, and a middle course of sauteed mushrooms (six wild varieties) with leeks, wine and poached duck eggs on top.  All with Spanish whites (mostly from the Godello grape) to match.  Keep an eye out for these wines at your wine store.

A lovely dinner at Cathryn's restaurant in Cold Spring, New York.  Loved the black squid ink pasta, the calves liver, Venetian-style, sea bass with leek and black olive pesto, and a fabulous organic burger -- rare, juicy and flavorful as can be.

A great walk on the new part of the High Line on 11th avenue, followed by a wonderful early dinner at Donatella's -- her new restaurant/pizzeria on 8th avenue and 18th street in the city.  A wonderful pizza margherita (for our daughter) , followed by a delicious pizza with sausage and broccoli rabe (for me), and a very credible pasta with sea urchin (for my husband).  Love the ambiance and Donatella's gold pizza oven with her name inlaid on it.

Another out-of-this world lunch on the rooftop of Eataly.  At Birreria, with sunglasses on our heads and wine glasses full of Fontanafredda Langhe Bianco, a friend and I shared two simply delicious dishes: a kale salad with grapefruit, poppy seed frico and anchovy vinaigrette, and pork shoulder braised with beer and apricot. Signature "kraut" and lots of good bread.

Wine grape of the week:  Godello

First course of the week:  Cold soup (authentic gazpacho; and cucumber-cilantro-yogurt).  What they had in common were delicious warm homemade croutons.

Last fling of summer:  Party at Katie Booth's, dinner for four at the Adlers, terrace dinner party at Saralie's (prior blog)

Cold SpaghettiOs and Tastes of the Week

The impending hurricane had us scurrying to a local supermarket in Jeffersonville, New York to gather some goods before we headed back to Park Slope. As suggested by camp officials, we brought our daughter home from French Woods one day early. "What to eat?" we asked ourselves, if we're to lose electricity during the storm. "Beans, "I said to my husband. "I'll make some beans."  "You can't," he replied, "nor can you make your morning coffee." (Our oven needs a jolt of electricity to work.)  "Wow, I thought."  Our daughter doesn't eat fish and we can't heat anything up, so what does one eat, I muttered, as we sauntered up and down the aisles.  I really had to laugh as we pulled baked beans off the shelf (cold? could be good!); canned corn, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, applesauce, mandarin oranges, and spaghettiOs.  Yes, we did. Other tastes of the week included:

Fabulous gelato at Grom in the New York's Greenwich Village:  espresso gelato and crema di Grom (with nubbins of corn biscuits and shaved chocolate).  A great marriage of flavors.  Luxurious texture.

Such a delicious feijoada and pernil (roast pork) -- washed down with a couple of glasses of pinot noir-like Zweigelt (from Austria) at Samba Cafe in Jeffersonville, New York.   More about that tomorrow!

Two wonderful salads at our daughter's camp! (French Woods for the Performing Arts.)  Roasted sweet potato and white bean salad (with a touch of vinegar and curry), and one of best couscous salads I've had.  Will try to get the recipe -- will feed 800!

A great seasonal summer tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, wood-fired olives, and a credible Pizza Margherita at the Park Slope hotspot, Franny's.

Robust, savory, yum cannelloni filled with lamb and some unknown (but knowable) pungent cheese at Tarallucci e Vino on East 18th Street in NY.

Good white-and-yellow corn on the cob from Key Food.  Really.

And...a great, rare burger at Slainte (Irish bar) on the Bowery.  Decent house red.  Cheap.  Good fries.

Tastes of the Week

August 15  through August 21 A delicious, intense cafe cortado (espresso with milk foam) at the charming, tiny Italianesque coffee bar in Park Slope called Cafe Regular du Nord -- located on Berkeley off 7th Ave.   It is the only time I ever have milk in my coffee: I am a die-hard black coffee addict.  The cortado tastes like a special treat and better than dessert!

A wonderful salad of baby calamari and a sformata of polenta, gorgonzola and wild mushrooms at restaurant Da Andrea (across the street from the Quad Cinema where I saw Passione for the 2nd time!)  A glass of a good Montepulciano -- their house red wine.

An espresso upstairs at an adorable cafe called Adore (run by a Japanese man) whose customers are mostly Japanese.  A tiny secret on West 13th Street, where soups, sandwiches and other light food is also served.  It's a great place to hide, get hydrated, read, and stay cool.

Went to to uber-famous little pie shop in Brooklyn called Four & 20 Blackbirds.  The salty caramel apple pie and the strawberry-balsamic pie actually exceeded expectations. (3rd avenue and 7th street in Bklyn).

Not far from the pie shop, if you want some savory food before your pie, is Bar Tono which has style and good food.  Pizza looked good, so did my friend's burger, and my salad of wild arugula, roquefort, dried cranberries, and walnuts was delicious and ample.  (3rd avenue and 9th street in Bklyn).

Went to restaurant La Mangeoire on 2nd Avenue and 52nd street in Manhattan for the first time in over 30 years!   The 4-star chef Christian Delouvrier is cooking there!  Lovely stuffed sepia, calves liver with caramelized onions (you hardly find that any more!), Provencal vegetable tart, even chocolate mousse for dessert.  What a lovely trip down memory lane.  Gerard, the owner, is charming.

Another amazing coffee -- this time a "macchiato" -- an espresso with just a dab of steamed milk, on the rooftop of Eataly at the new Birreria.  A credible offering of paper-thin slices of coppa with good bread and olive oil, and excellent Prosecco poured from a magnum in a beautiful glass. Nice touch.

Great chorizos in dry sherry at Cafe Espagnol off 7th Avenue in NYC.  Such an institution, I've wanted to go for decades but finally did.  My husband and I shared a bottle of good Rioja and pork chops with peppers, onions and sausages (awash in an old-fashioned, finger-licking brown sauce).

A dish at home of succulent pork "tonnato" (it's usually made with veal) blanketed in a velvety sauce of tuna, olive oil, mayonnaise, white wine reduction, background perfume of garlic, rosemary and bay.  As a garnish, lots of capers and a unique touch of whole leaves of fried sage!  Really good!

Tastes of the Week

August 7 through August 14th Began this morning with a bowl of yogurt and a copious pour of raspberry-rhubarb birch syrup brought to me by a friend who just returned from Alaska. Apparently they use this brooding, deeply complex elixir, instead of honey, in many ways. Birch syrup is a unique flavor from Alaska's forests and is apparently quite rare. It takes an average of 100 gallons of sap from paper birch trees to make 1 gallon of birch syrup (www.alaskabirchsyrup.com).

Great french fries at the Hotel Kitano jazz club where we heard the remarkable saxophonist Ted Nash and his quartet the other night. The burgers looked good, too -- and so did the drummer! Ted Nash, is one of the country's top jazz musicians -- we met him a few weeks ago in Ravello when he was traveling with Wynton Marsalis.

I finally went to the Park Slope Food Co-op! It's considered one of the best in the country and it's only a few blocks from my house. Purple okra, bouquets of perky basil, wild fennel, and watermelon with seeds! 

Fabulous dinner at ilili-- a very sophisticated Lebanese restaurant (Fifth Avenue and 28th St.) -- whose chef, Philippe Massoud is becoming a rock star. Begin with a table full of cold mezze (the best labneh!) and follow with a round of hot mezze, (and fried sweetbreads!) and savory pancake "sliders."  Baskets full of warm, homemade, ultra-thin pita.  Great pounded raw meat (kibbeh naya) that you place on the pita with a slice of onion, jalapeno and fresh mint!

An amazing tasting dinner at Eddie Schoenfeld's new restaurant Red Farm in the West Village.  The bbq'd Filet Mignon Tart with curried vegetables & frizzled ginger was one of the best "first tastes" I've ever had!  Also great? Kumamoto oysters wtih meyer lemon-yuzu ice, grilled vegetable salad with artichoke-bean curd dip and amazing homemade "crackers," and shu mai shooters, with carrot-ginger juice and fresh morels!

A great lunch, on one of New York's most beautiful afternoons, at Mario Batali's La Birreria on the rooftop of Eataly!  Sat outdoors and chomped down on a terrific sausage of pork and beef, flavored with coriander, a kind of half-cured chunky kraut, and a fabulous dish of maiitake mushrooms with asparagus and peas. I can't wait to go back.

A morning snack of Sicilian pesto (made with almonds, tomato, very good garlic, and basil) at Arthur Schwartz's house, followed by one of the year's best caponata's (check it out in Arthur's book "The Southern Italian Table"), eaten on crusty loaves of grain bread from Orwashers. I used to buy Orwasher's bread for Mayor Ed Koch when I was the chef at Gracie Mansion -- in 1978! A peach so good at Union Square Market that several people stopped me, as the juices were running down my arm, to ask me where I got it. I think they were from Breezy Hill Orchards. 

Tastes of the Week (Italy Edition)

July 17th-24th, 2011 This week’s tastes all come from southern Italy on our summer holiday.  In the charming towns of Ravello, Minori and the lesser-known village of Scala, we have eaten well, sometimes superbly, and always with an eye to authenticity.

In the town of Minori, we sampled the two famous pastries of this area. One is the delicious, rum-soaked baba (here it is also available drenched in a syrup laced with limoncello), and the now-celebrated cake of pastry maestro Sal de Riso – made with ricotta and pears.  It was as good as Arthur Schwartz said it would be.  Arthur and Sal have become good friends because of Arturo’s many trips to this area.  In the same town, in the tiny main square in front of the yellow Baroque church (Basilica S. Trophimenae), we had for the first time, the famous fresh pasta of the Amalfi coast known as scialatielli. At ristorante Libeccio, we drank a fabulous and unexpectedly dry, sparkling rose from Greco di Tufo.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the local pasta adorned with an abundance of super-fresh seafood (including mussels, squid, and tiny razor clams), to the primal fresh vegetable soup, and a one-ingredient salad of arugula (the best and freshest!) with a squeeze of the extraordinary lemons of Amalfi and extra-virgin olive oil.

At the Ristorante dei Cavalieri in Scala, we sampled traditional dishes done in a slightly updated way, by chef Lorenzo Mansi.  There was sartu – a traditional Neapolitan rice dish baked in a mold.  Here it was surrounded by a thin coverlet of eggplant, filled with rice, provola, bits of chicken and meat.  Often it is filled with peas, mushrooms, sausages or chicken livers.  We also had a dish called gateau di patate – generally made as a sformata (a mold of potato, mozzarella, and bits of prosciutto), here was a more fluid, creamy version, almost risotto-like, or deconstructed.  It was delicious, if not quite the potato “cake” it should have been.  My husband had paccheri with seafood – another classic tubular pasta from this area.  Our friend’s birthday cake – served with fanfare – was a credible version of a Caprese cake (made with cocoa and almonds) – a classic from the Amalfi coast.

At Cumpa Cosimo in the town of Ravello, we ate gnocchi alla Sorrentino, a fabulous sausage smothered in melted provola, and a bit of tiramisu, offered by the ebullient Netta Bottone, the owner.

The best pizza so far was eaten at midnight, under the fireworks, inches from the sea in the town of Atrani on the evening of the feast of their patron saint.  The entire town came out to participate in this yearly event.  The pizza was da morire (to die for) – especially the one with tomato, anchovies and garlic.

Lots of wine on this trip: falanghina, fiano, and nameless but delicious dry, fresh, slightly frizzante reds. D.H. Lawrence spent lots of time here, as did Wagner (an all-Wagner concert last night at the Ravello music festival) with the superb (and very beautiful soprano), Martina Serafin.

Tastes of the Week

From July 11th to July 17th, 2011 Amazing fresh chickpeas at Union Square Market from the Bodhitree Organic farm (located 20 minutes south of Trenton). Boiled in their pods they taste somewhere between fresh peas and edamame. They are even interesting raw.  But we loved them best tossed with olive oil and a bit of garlic and "grilled" in a searing hot pan until slightly charred, then sprinkled with salt.  You suck them from their pods and then lick your fingers.

A pile of super-fresh peaches with thick yogurt and Rota organic honey from New Zealand.  A handful of fresh raspberries on top.  The honey is made from "the brilliant red flowering Rota trees" that flower every 3 or 4 years.  It is a highly prized white honey that is considered one of the world's best.

A slice of my Venetian Wine Cake made with olive oil, red wine, rosemary and lemon.  Am thinking about bringing it back on the market in the fall!

The best soft-serve ice cream at the Margate Dairy Bar in Margate, New Jersey.  Its chocolatey-ness came through the the black and white swirl like a blast from the past. Ultra-creamy texture.  Also enjoyed the orange and vanilla swirl (like a Creamsicle) on a cone.

A fun "cheese steak pizza" at Cavallino Nero in Mays Landing, New Jersey.  Sat outside in the front garden entwined with grape vines, feeling like we were somewhere in an obscure town in Italy.  (Where we will be next week!)

Fabulous cheeses from Cato Corner Farm located in the Union Square Market.  I especially adored the Black Ledge Blue and a very cheddary cheese called Bloomsday.  They name their cows and also their cheeses with great charm:  Dairyere, Drunk Monk, and Wise Womenchego. The amazing Dale Bellisfield, holistic medical practitioner, clinical herbalist and NJ bee keeper, turned me on to them.

Imported taralli, roasted almonds and white wine at Arthur Schwartz's house.

Lovely breakfast in Iva's garden (a friend in the neighborhood) sitting amongst fig trees and hanging clusters of green grapes. Fig trees!  Who knew? Great coffee and toasted slices of Amy's fennel-golden raisin rolls.

My daughter's homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Hers are much better than mine!

A large, lush, fleshy purple fig.