Foodista "Best of Food Blogs" Winner!


     Good news from yesterday...my recipe and photographs for white veal stock (posted here way, way back) have officially been selected as one of the winners in the Foodista "Best of Food Blogs" Cookbook Contest!  The recipe and photos are among the 100 that will be published and released this October.  The book is already available for pre-order here, on Amazon.com. 

     Check out all the winning recipes on Foodista.com...

Tedone Latticini Closes Down; 90-year Old Cheesemaker Retires



I couldn't wait to get over to Tedone Latticini this morning, for what is easily the best fresh mozzarella I've ever had here in New York.  Rich, salty, and so creamy that it would actually ooze a little bit when you cut into it, with a tender but firm texture that revealed it's hand-worked properties.  It's distinctly unique compared to other good mozzarella, and it makes anything from a supermarket seem like bland, white play-doh.

This place isn't exactly unknown, as the Times and a few other blogs have picked up on it (there's a nice slideshow here at the NY Times), but overall most people I talk to about it have no idea it's there.  It was a nearly unmarked, seemingly random old storefront on Metropolitan Avenue that you'd never think to just walk into and get the best mozzarella of your life.  I lived a few blocks away for probably a whole year without ever even thinking to venture inside.

Today, I had a bunch of fresh, perfectly ripe tomatoes brought back from my parent's garden upstate.  And pretty much ever since I laid eyes on them,  I've been counting the moments until they would meet that fresh, creamy mozzarella.  This morning was supposed to be that morning.

But when I arrived, there was no mozzarella.  There was no smile from Georgiana (Georgie, as she was always known in the store) Tedone's 90-year old face looking out the window.  No counter, no refrigerators.  Nothing actually, except for a few random items leftover, and a couple guys tearing down and cleaning out the old store.

One of the men came out, clearly noticing the look of sheer disbelief on our faces, and said "don't worry, she's still alive, she just decided to finally retire..." Before I could even get the next question out, he answered, "no more mozzarella."

And sadly, that's that.  I left, stunned and saddened.  I had my selfish reasons today, but it's also a real loss for the neighborhood, and for all of New York.  One of the true, old masters doing one thing, perfectly, the way she was taught long, long ago.  You can't get mozzarella like that just anywhere.  You don't find too many 90-year women who've been getting up at 3am, 6 days a week, to make fresh cheese since they were 16 years old.  That is something very, very special.  And now it's gone.

Some time ago,  I read that she decided not to pass on her family tradition, her secrets, for whatever reason.  That when she passed away or retired, the cheese would too.  I guess I never wanted to believe it.  And had I known that day would be today, I probably would have savored the last ball of mozzarella, whenever I had it, a little bit more.

Thank you Georgie, and enjoy your retirement.  You will be missed.

Spicy Ceviche Trio with Grapefruit


Ok, I know I had promised part two of "Reconsidering the Lobster".  But plans, and weather, change.  Considering the 100+ degree heat wave scorching NYC right now, I'm gonna hold off on posting anything involving labor and heat intensive cooking.  Instead (but still sticking with the seafood theme here), I thought I'd share a ceviche recipe I've been making since summer has quickly killed any of my motivation to be cooking in a non-air conditioned Brooklyn kitchen.

There are endless variations on ceviche, with it's roots and practice extending all the way from Central America, through South America and out to the Pacific Islands.  Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Hawaiian...the list goes on.  So ceviche preparations can be very specific to a country or even a particular region. But wherever you go, the basic concept remains the same: marinating seafood in citrus juice until the acids present in the citrus denature the proteins, thereby "cooking" the meat.

Normally, with a dish like this, I might make some attempt at "authenticity" by sticking to a particular country's traditional preparation.  But in this case I decided to just use the ingredients and flavors I enjoy, without straying too far from the tranditional elements.  This ceviche incorporates three types of seafood, two kinds of citrus, cilantro, a good dose of heat and a few vegetables for flavor, texture and color.

The seafood, in this case, were Florida rock shrimp, Mexican bay scallops, and Costa Rican tilapia.  The rock shrimp have a unique, mildly sweet flavor, a touch of brininess, and the small size and firm texture I like for ceviche.  Same goes for the scallops; perfect size, flavor and a nice smooth but firm texture.  The tilapia I like for it's firmness and it's mild, almost neutral flavor.  It's an ideal canvas to absorb the flavors of the ceviche, without imparting a strong flavor of its own.  In addition, it gets high marks for it's economical price and sustainability as a farmed fish.  You can use pretty much any fish you like, although firm, white or light-fleshed ones work best.  Tilapia, corvina, sea bass, snapper, mahi-mahi, tuna or even halibut all can work.  Squid, octopus, clams...all good as well.  The most important thing, as always, is that it's good, fresh seafood.

I added some roasted corn (which usually might be served as a side dish here), and some finely diced red and orange bell peppers, along with some jalapeno and thinly sliced red onion.  They all add some much needed color and a bright, sweet crunch to contrast the fish.

But the notable addition here was the grapefruit, which adds more complexity than just using limes alone.  It gives a touch of both sweet and bitter, along with an almost tropical fragrance that for me, really elevates the dish to another level.  The first time I made this I actually ended up eating what would have been three normal servings just by myself.  Needless to say, it's become a summertime staple in our kitchen.  It's light, refreshing, simple to prepare, and a damn good excuse to not fire up the stove.
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Spicy Ceviche Trio with Grapefruit

1/2 lb. tilapia, cut into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes
1/4 lb. bay scallops
1/4 lb. rock shrimp

1 small bell pepper (any color or combination of), diced
1/2 cup roasted corn kernels
1 small red onion, sliced thin or finely chopped
1/2 large jalapeno, some seeds left in
1 tsp. habanero sauce
1 tbsp. olive oil
 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
6 limes, juiced
1/2 grapefruit, sectioned and peeled, plus 1/4 cup of juice

sea salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except for grapefruit sections, bell pepper and corn, mixing gently but thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, mix thoroughly again, and refrigerate for another 1-2 hours.

After 2 hours, mix in the diced bell peppers and corn.  Serve in a small bowl and garnish with the grapefruit sections

Serves 4 

Reconsidering the Lobster: Part One

The idea had been there for months, just waiting for the right time and opportunity to surface.  Lobster.  If there is one meat that symbolizes summer, it has to be lobster, with steamed clams perhaps coming in a close second (actually it might be a tie, and what the hell, I'd rather have both of them together anyways,with an ice cold beer to wash it all down).  Yes, there are the ubiquitous burgers and hot dogs, and barbeque aplenty, but I have yet to meet anyone alive who would choose a burger over a lobster, given the opportunity.

By now, many of us are at least vaguely aware that historically, lobster has not always been considered a luxury or even anything worth eating.  This seems to have been primarily a case of abundance vs. scarcity.  In Pre-Colonial and Colonial America, lobsters were so abundant that piles would wash up on the coast.  They were a cheap source of food for poor coastal families, indentured servants and prisoners along parts of the Northeast Coast of the U.S. and Canada.  Famously, some states even had laws against feeding prisoners or servants lobster more than a few times per week, as it was considered cruel and unusual punishment.  Which is incredibly ironic considering that lobster is now often requested by prisoners as a last meal.  Basically, lobster was either given to the lowest of the low, ground up for fertilizer, or used as bait for other fish.

Ah, but how times have changed.  After the advent of railroads and a few other modern inventions of the industrial revolution, people outside of coastal areas were able to get a taste for lobster, and from there on out the lobster love affair continued.

For myself, lobster has always been one of those delicacies reserved for "occasions."   Inextricably intertwined with the upper-echelon reaches of restaurant menus where the cost reads only "market price", which we all know as restaurant code for "if you have to ask, you can't afford it."

But in truth, for home cooks, lobster is one of those affordable luxuries than not only are a simple preparation, but can also become an event unto themselves, as well the base for at least another meal after the all shells have been cracked, the meat has been delicately pried out, and the warm melted butter has managed to make it's way onto every surface in it's path including your brand new white shirt.  Honestly.

At my favorite fish market in NYC, The Lobster Place (in Chelsea Market), live lobsters can be had for just around $10.00/lb.  I've recently bought bratwurst that cost more, but that's another story altogether. Sure, you pay for a lot of shells and gills too, but the point here is that it doesn't have to be some special occasion to get a couple lobsters and indulge, but it still FEELS like a special occasion.  There's a ritual and experience that you just don't get with many other foods.  Handling the lobsters; feeling them move and twitch as you wonder, "am I doing this right? ".  And then the messy, brutal eating of the lobster, halfway through of which all decorum and attempts at modesty have flown out the window in lieu of unbridled, sweet, salty, buttery lust.  Think about it, how many other foods will grown adults voluntarily wear a bib in public for?

But I pause for a moment, as it seems in any good lobster discussion, the issue of the most "ethical" way to kill it and cook it inevitably arises.  And I can understand the concern.  If nothing else, the act of cooking a live lobster requires a degree of consciousness and participation not involved in eating almost any other contemporary, mass consumed animal.  There's certainly not much of a moral or physical contest in unwrapping a frozen beef pattie and slapping it on the grill.  But there are more than enough writings and research available regarding this subject to base a decision on, and I dare not wade in the waters of arthropod physiology, which I have no business in.  In short, I have already come to grips with my conscience on this matter.   I've read of various methods of dealing with this: freezing, hypnosis, slow boiling, and just dropping them in a pot.  My personal preference is to gently place the tip of a sharp chef's knife just behind the eyes and come down with quick, decisive force onto the head.  Perhaps it's the idea of taking the final act into my own hands, directly and purposefully, then giving thanks, in some sort of Native American sensibility that eases my conscience.  Maybe that's all nonsense.  In any case, in my experience with the knife method, if done correctly, the lobster should react for no more than a few seconds or so until resting quietly, as opposed to the prolonged thrashing about in a pot of superheated water.   Seems like a better idea to me.

Which brings us to the matter of the cooking.  The simplest and perhaps best means of preparing a lobster is steaming or boiling.  No reason to make it any more complicated than that.  Just the lobster, water, and a good dose of salt (or true sea water, if you have access to it).  If you want to match the approximate salinity of sea water, use 1 tbsp. of salt for every cup of water you are using.  Between boiling and steaming, I prefer steaming, as it seems to produce a more concentrated flavor and a more delicate, less bloated texture to the meat.

After that decision, it couldn't be simpler.  In a large pot, add about 2 inches of water, salt, and a steaming rack if you have one.  Bring the water to a boil, then drop in your lobsters.  Steaming times are as follows:  13 minutes per pound for the first pound, then 3 minutes for each additonal pound.  Remove from the pot and let cool for approx. 5 minutes before cracking.

To go along with the lobster, I like to keep things simple.  Hot melted butter.  Perhaps some corn on the cob.  And of course, plenty of paper towels to clean up the hot mess of deliciousness you will inevitably have made.

Next: Part Two - What to do with the scattering of leftover lobster bits all over your kitchen.

The Quick Dish: Pappardelle Pasta with Asparagus & Parmigiano


I have become acutely aware of the way my cooking and/or dining approach tends to go through phases.  Sometimes (often) it's a seasonal shift.  Sometimes it's the company I keep. Sometimes, as Johnny Cash & Bob Dylan once said, I guess things happen that way.  There was a time when I felt compelled to eat ribeye steaks polished off with a bottle of Barolo, alone, at home, 3 days a week.  Actually, that still sounds kind of good, I may have to revisit that.  For a while I couldn't stop making pasta.  Or kale.  Or eggs.  Or risotto. Or truffling everything in my path.  Then there are those periods where I just can't cook dinner without making it a from-scratch, 5 course, all-day exercise in spending a small fortune, destroying my kitchen, and possibly shaving a few years off my life.  Sometimes I will do this even if I'm eating alone.  And yes, I have been mocked for this on more than one occasion.

But lately, for a number of reasons, I just want something simple.  Relatively quick.  Reasonably cheap.  I don't know, maybe I'm just getting lazy in the kitchen.  Perhaps I hate running back out to the store after I'm already home.  I do know for sure that after a 10 or 12 hour day of work and a 45-minute subway commute, elaborate dinner is just not in the cards most of the time.  Sometimes I just want to come up with something using only what I have on hand at home (which is a challenge I actually kind of enjoy).  But I still want something good, and this I am not willing to sacrifice on.

For the past couple months, I've been all about making something good out of a few inexpensive ingredients and things I already have at home.  Of course, part of this is keeping some essential items stocked on a regular basis, which is just a good idea anyways.   Its an approach I've really been enjoying and appreciating.  For one thing, it allows me a number of benefits, such as saving time, money, and really focusing on real, individual ingredients and what I'm putting in my body.

So consider this the first installment of "The Quick Dish," which will hopefully become a regular feature on The Modern Gastronomer.  This first dish is just a simple pasta I put together for lunch from only ingredients I had in the kitchen.  You can substitute any type of pasta you like or even substitute a leafy green vegetable for the asparagus if you have it around.  And of course feel free to guild the lily however you like; add fresh ricotta, an egg, peas, whatever works.  Pretty much all the ingredients are things you're likely to have (or should have) at home on any given day or week.  If you don't have some decent Parmigiano in your fridge, you should be ashamed of yourself and I'd take some time to fix that problem, as soon as possible, before doing anything else today.


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PAPPARDELLE PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS & PARMIGIANO

1 serving pappardelle (or other wide pasta)
1/2 cup roughly chopped asparagus
1 Small clove garlic, crushed
1 lemon
1 tbsp. butter
1 egg (optional)
1 spoonful fresh ricotta cheese (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (for grating)
Salt
Pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta.  In a small pan, place the chopped asparagus, crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and approx. 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Cook over medium heat until tender, tossing occasionally to cook on all sides.  To cook the asparagus a bit faster, you can add a splash of water or stock (which will also add a bit of flavor) and then cover the pan.

After the pasta is done (still slightly al dente), drain the pasta and save approx. 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Add the cooked pasta to the pan with the asparagus, along with the butter and the pasta water, and cook together over high heat, mixing everything together until the water & butter begin to emulsify and coat the pasta, approx. 1 minute, and turn off the heat.

As an optional step for a richer, creamier dish, add a spoonful of fresh ricotta cheese, or one egg (after turning off the heat) and mix thoroughly with the pasta.

Add salt & pepper to taste.  Top with a generous grating of parmigiano-reggiano.  Garnish with a pinch of grated lemon zest or a squeeze of lemon, and a quick drizzle of good olive oil.

Congratulate yourself on making yourself a fresh, delicious pasta dish in about 15 minutes.

A Simple Roasted Trout



It had been staring at me each time I opened the freezer, for about a month now.  Frozen solid in a block of ice, almost as though it were captured in motion.  Kind of like a caveman that had been unearthed from a snowy depth (in a movie, of course).  But this was no club-wielding neanderthal.  This was a rainbow trout.

As a child, fishing was almost religion in our house.  Every year, every season.  If I remember correctly, my first baby steps were immediately followed by my father putting a fishing pole in my hands and showing me how to hook a worm.  I don't make it out fishing as much as I'd like to anymore, but he still does.  In fact, he had nabbed a few small but beautiful rainbow trout a couple months ago.  During my last visit home, he offered me one of the cleaned, frozen fish, of which I happily accepted and promised I would eat.  And so, it made an icy voyage back with me, to New York City, where's its been in my freezer.  Sitting. Waiting.

Until this week.  Perhaps it's the cool spring air, or seeing leaves on the trees again.  Maybe it was the thought of unseen mountain streams rushing with freshly thawed snow.  Whatever it was, something said, yes, trout for dinner!  Of course!  For whatever reason, I decided to finally thaw it out and cook it up.  It was perfect because it was simple, light, and I thought it would be a nice little bite to have with some soup and some simply done vegetables.

Now, I've always had a special affinity for simply cooked trout.  Particularly when you've caught it yourself, and even better when you catch it and cook it in the same place, maybe over an open fire, by the side of a lake, in the early morning or late evening as the sun is going down and a calm comes over the water.  Those are memories of not only food, but of childhood, family, and simple yet perfect things that I always find myself longing for.

But even if you don't have a fishing pole, an open fire, or even the idyllic setting, rainbow trout still makes for great eating.  For one, they have a delicious, subtly sweet, nutty flavor, which really shines when prepared very simply (perhaps grilled or roasted with just some herbs, olive oil and lemon, or even smoked).  They are also very easy to clean and prepare, if you are doing it yourself.  And they are both an inexpensive and ecologically friendly option if you're buying them at the supermarket, in which case they will most likely be U.S farmed-raised, primarily from Idaho.  On a side note here, one of my most memorable breakfasts ever was a plate of eggs, hash browns, and smoked trout, eaten early in the morning with a stream rushing in the near distance, outside of Sun Valley, Idaho.  Add a hot cup of coffee, and that my friends, will set you right first thing in the morning.

This recipe is about as simple as it gets, and that's part of the reason I love it.  Just a few ingredients, simple preparation, and clean, distinctly subtle flavors.  Add just about any kind of roasted vegetable (potatoes, beets, carrots, asparagus..) and maybe a lean, minerally white wine to go along with it, and you've got a perfect lunch or dinner.  Simple, rustic, elegant.  And even better if you caught the fish yourself.


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OVEN-ROASTED RAINBOW TROUT

1  whole small/medium trout (per person), cleaned, with or without head
1  small sprig fresh dill
2  small sprigs fresh thyme
1 small bunch fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 lemon
Olive oil
Black pepper
Sea salt


Preheat oven to 400 F

Rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry.  Drizzle or brush all sides of the fish with olive oil, and liberally salt and pepper the inside and outside of the fish.  Place the crushed garlic pieces, dill, thyme, and 2-3 small slices of lemon inside.  Place the trout onto slightly oiled baking sheet, pan, or roasting dish.

Roast in oven for approx. 15-20 minutes, or until skin has browned and the flesh pulls/flakes away easily from the bones.

Garnish with freshly squeezed lemon juice and chopped parsley.

A word about bones:
Trout can be deboned prior to cooking, or be cooked with bones left in.  If you choose to leave them in, the flesh will pull away easily from the bones after cooking.  In either case, care should be taken to avoid swallowing any small bones.

Two Poems For the Weekend; Thoughts of Spring.


Spring is like a perhaps hand                                      
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

-E.E. Cummings


The sun is brilliant in the sky
but its warmth does not reach my face.

The breeze stirs the trees
but leaves my hair unmoved.

The cooling rain will feed the grass
but will not slake my thirst.

It is all inches away
but further from me than my dreams.
  

-M. Romeo LaFlamme

All-Inclusive or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Tourist


I recently returned from a trip to Cancun, Mexico.  It was for a wedding, at one of those big, sprawling, all-inclusive resorts on the beach, where the pool is deep blue and pristine, the buffet is always open, the drinks are always free, and everyone speaks English.  Just lie back and call for another cerveza.  Head to the beach later.  Maybe a pina colada this time.  Soak in some more sun before dinner time rolls around.  Just relax, check out, and don't worry about a thing except what kind of drink to have next, and which of the resort's six different restaurants to go to for dinner.

It stood in stark contrast to my usual travel experiences, which generally involve madly researching, exploring and photographing foreign lands in search of the food, the culture, the real sense and identity of a place.  It got me thinking about the differences between travel, vacation and everything in between.  What are the real differences?  Is one really any better or more valuable than the other? Conventional wisdom has it that being a "tourist" is bad.  Being a "traveler" is good.  So this trip raised some questions for me.  Have we become overly obsessed with needing an "authentic" cultural experience at every turn?  Have we neglected the value of travel for the pure, simple purpose of just doing nothing?

Admittedly, my inner travel snob had some initial resistance to letting go in Cancun.  The whole resort vibe - the tourists, the buses, the fruity umbrella drinks, the non-stop service - it was out of my comfort zone as a traveller.  I felt a sense of guilt for not seeing the "real" Mexico; for indulging in the pleasures of the tourist.  Where were all the colorful indigineous characters? The local women hand-crafting tortillas, the street tacos, the adventure! Surely this is what I should be seeing in Mexico!



But then, somewhere towards the end of day two, something happened.  I just let go.  Let go of my expectations, my ideas, my hang-ups.  In a way, it was almost as though I didn't have a choice.  The beauty of the water, the feeling of the air, salt and sun (and no small amount of drinks) softly put me into vacation mode like a baby into a warm bath.  I relaxed, and allowed myself to do nothing for a while.  Just enjoyed myself, the people around me, and the little pleasures that you can't help but smile about.  Like the early morning sun, rising and coming off the Gulf waters, waking me up every morning, rejuvenated.  Or the satisfaction of sharing an unbelievably tender and delicious grilled hanger steak, with some fresh salsa verde, a squeeze of lime and a cold beer, at a simple table looking out over blue sky and white beach.  The days consisted of waking up, eating, sleeping on the beach until you're hungry again, and then repeating this cycle until the body and mind are the consistency of whipped, spreadable butter.  This, I realized, I like very, very much.



I had always thought of myself as anything but a tourist.  I love nothing more than trying to figure it out on my own in an unfamiliar land.  To stumble through a foreign language, foreign traffic, foreign signs.  To make sense of a new place, new people, new food.  I get lost. I find my way.  I get violently ill at the thought of tour buses and huge groups of people trying to go somewhere else without ever really leaving their way of life behind.  And I will always love travelling for the sake of travel.  For the culture I've never had, the foods I've never tried, languages I've never spoken, and sights I've never seen.  These things still drive me, like a dream forever being chased.  A constant reminder of all that is yet to be experienced in this short life.

But after spending that time in Cancun, admittedly being a bit of a tourist (ok, so no tour buses), I realized that there is a place - no, a necessity - to indulge in doing nothing once in a while.  And that maybe, just maybe, sometimes it's good to be a tourist.

Happy New Year

Well, after a good (and very long) absence this holiday season, its time to kick things back into gear for 2010, starting the first full year of The Modern Gastronomer. Expect to see a lot more this year, with weekly posts, news, reviews, articles and whatever else I can come up with.

So happy new year, and let's get started...

Taking Stock: Ending a Year, Beginning a Fond Blanc de Veau


A few weeks ago, on a typical morning, I woke up out of a much longer than usual sleep. I walked into my kitchen to begin the day and looked out the window. It was the kind of morning I imagine feels like a very late afternoon somewhere in Siberia; a cold, brooding blue refusing to acknowledge anything remotely decent or civilized. I felt it everywhere. And suddenly, inexplicably, I felt the need to make stock. A big, rich, aromatic pot of meat stock, bubbling and simmering all day long. And without really thinking about it, I realized that winter had finally, truly arrived here in New York.

It makes sense that I wanted to get that big pot simmering away. The act of making a stock feels appropriately symbolic of the end of the year. After a full (and let's be honest, pretty rough) year, the time has come to pull together all the leftover bits and scraps and find a way to slowly coax new life and sustenance from the bones of the past year. Remnants broken down, made new and stored away, providing a means to sustain us during the cold winter months, and a foundation to build on in the new year. There is an inherent concept of frugality and resourcefulness weaved into the process as well that definitely feels timely and appropriate.

But beyond any symbolic or other significance, a good stock is simply one of the most fundamental elements of cooking. Its hard to overstate it's importance, and I'm not just talking about the haute-cuisine, demi-glace sense of important. Nearly all cultures and cuisines have some version of a stock that's used as a staple (usually as soup or cooking liquid), whether it be a fish stock in Thailand, a pork stock in Japan, a veal stock in France, or a chicken stock here in the United States. It should be no surprise then that the French term for stocks, fonds de cuisine, literally translates to the foundation of the kitchen.

Yet for the most part, real stock is treated as anything but essential in our everyday culture. Most people think of stock as something that comes out of a can or carton you pick up at the grocery store. Something that requires almost no thought, preparation or effort, and bears no relation or connection to what it comes from - a few vegetables and the bones of an animal.

Personally, I never buy supermarket stock. If I don't have a homemade stock on hand, I simply don't make anything that requires it. But I also almost never make a clean, proper, all-day stock either. Generally its more like throwing veggies and the carcass from a roasted chicken, or some random bones and bits together to make a small amount of quick, dirty, (and to be honest) rather unimpressive stock.

But a well-made fond de veau, or veal stock, is anything but unimpressive or ordinary. Any real chef or cook out there knows this. In his book The Elements of Cooking, Michael Ruhlman talks fanatically about the marvels of veal stock, describing it as "one of the most powerful tools in professional kitchens, one of the biggest guns in the professional chef's entire arsenal...if there's a single ingredient that could transform a cook's repertoire at home, it's veal stock." So what exactly makes it so special? Essentially, two primary qualities: it's rich yet relatively neutral flavor (which makes it versatile enough to use with nearly any dish, unlike beef or chicken broths), and the velvety mouthfeel it imparts due to the high gelatin content derived from the collagen in the bones. It gives a dish that certain savory, textural quality you can't quite put your finger on, but most definitely know is in there. Basically, there's nothing else like it.

At this point I feel obligated to at least touch on the ethical concerns over eating veal. I do feel a serious degree of unease and guilt over eating traditionally, inhumanely crated veal. As a meat, I almost never eat it at home or in restaurants; maybe a couple times a year at most. As for using the bones for stock, in some way I feel slightly less guilt. Perhaps because it represents making use of the leftover parts of an animal that has already been killed primarily for meat. Perhaps that's just one of my rationalizations. In any case, I can't morally justify making veal stock regularly; once or twice a year will have to do. And for any future stocks I will certainly be insisting on first finding a reliable source of humanely raised veal to get bones from.

With that said, now lets get into the stock itself. There's a lot of information out there on veal stock, and I would say that Thomas Keller's recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook is perhaps the most comprehensive (and laborious) verison, and Carol Blymire's blog, French Laundry at Home, gives a nice step-by-step breakdown of Keller's recipe for all of us online as well. Michael Ruhlman also has an excellent preparation, and I consulted Julia Child's version from Mastering The Art of French Cooking, which is a great streamlined recipe, and is informative on the basics of stocks and their various incarnations. If you're going to take the time to make this stock, I would suggest checking out at least these few recipes to get a good sense of the differences in preparation, ingredients, etc., realize how they will affect your final product, and adjust your preparation accordingly.

I decided on making a white veal stock, because I wanted a stock without too much color or specific flavor. Something I could use to add body to a soup, make sauces, braise meats and vegetables, or use for a beautiful risotto. So for a white stock, I would not be roasting the bones, or adding any tomatoes or tomato paste at any point, both of which would be used in a brown stock (of which there are, of course, a number of variations on).

Despite all this talk about how special it is, a veal stock is really no more difficult than any other stock to make. Essentially its just meat, bones, aromatics (vegetables & spices) and water, all simmered in a pot together. That's it. But everything you put in will have a specific effect on the final product, so there are a few things to keep in mind for each of these ingredients:

Meat & Bones: It's important that you get bones that are both meaty and have a good amount of exposed bone marrow and connective tissue. Shank, neck, back, rib and knuckle bones are all good, and I would suggest a nice mix of a few types of these bones if it's possible. The marrow and connective tissue contain significant amounts of collagen, which breaks down into gelatin, giving the rich body and texture you want in your stock. When your stock is finshed, there should be enough gelatin present that the stock will solidify like a big old bowl of Jell-O in the refrigerator. The flavor, however, comes primarily from the meat, so if you don't have nice meaty bones you'll probably want to add meat, otherwise you'll end up with a weak, bone-flavored stock. The mixture should ideally be somewhere around half meat, half bone. The best way to find good bones is to just go out and talk to your local butchers. Most will be willing to sell you what they have, and will let you take a good look at the bones and cut them up for you however you like. If they don't have any in stock, you can even inquire about ordering them. Veal bones are sold to restaurants and butcher shops, frozen, in 50 lb. boxes. I found that if you make an offer to buy 10 lbs. or more, some places will actually be willing to order a whole box. All you have to do is ask. For you online types, FreshDirect is actually a great resource, as they regularly carry frozen veal bones (although you can't see exactly what you're getting).

Aromatics: The basic mixture of vegetables is a traditional mirepoix of onion, carrot and celery, along with garlic. However some recipes substitute leeks for celery, claiming that the celery adds too much bitterness. Some recipes use celery, with leeks being optional. I decided to use both, and just cut down on the amount of celery, using only about 1/3 of what is usually called for. The other thing to note when deciding on your mirepoix is color. If you truly want a white stock, with as little color as possible, then you may want to substitute parsnips for the carrots. The carrots will give some of their color off to the liquid, resulting in a pale yellow color to the stock. I used the carrots, because I love their flavor, and wasn't really worried about the bit of color they added. For the bouquet garnis of herbs & spices, you can of course use whatever you like. I think less is more, and stuck to the basics of bay leaf, thyme, parsely, and peppercorns, all tied up in a spice pouch or cheesecloth.

When it was all said and done, the stock turned out great and was exactly what I was looking for. Warming up my apartment on a cold winter day, filling the air with an unbelieveably delicious smell (something like the best pot roast ever), and of course, filling my freezer with rich, delicious stock that I imagine will last me through the depths of winter, well into spring and beyond (if I don't get greedy). However long it lasts, I'm expecting everything at my place will be tasting a whole lot better this year.
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Basic White Veal Stock

10 lbs. meaty veal bones (shank, back, neck, knuckle)

3 cups roughly chopped carrots (or parsnips)
3 cups roughly chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
2 cups roughly chopped yellow onions
1 cup roughly chopped celery
1 whole bulb garlic, halved & broken, root and excess skin removed

2 ounces italian parsley
1 ounce fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns

Step 1: Rinse and Blanch Veal Bones
Rinse veal bones/meat with cold water and place in a 20 quart stockpot. If you have smaller pots, just split the recipe into two batches. Fill the pot with cold water, with twice as much water as there are bones. Slowly bring to a simmer, and gently move bones around occasionally. Let simmer for about 3 minutes. As the bones are simmering, blood, granular particles and other impurities should rise to the top, forming a brownish-grey scum. After 2-3 minutes, remove from heat, and quickly drain and thoroughly rinse the bones while they are still hot. Rinse and clean the stockpot.

Step 2: Simmer Veal Bones/Meat
Place the blanched and rinsed bones/meat in the stockpot, and add cold water until they are covered by at least 2 inches. Slowly bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Once the water has started to simmer, begin skimming off the fat, scum and other particles that rise to the top. Continue to simmer and skim until this scum begins to cease accumulating.

Step 3: Add Aromatics
Add all of your vegetables into the pot. Place the parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a spice pouch or tied cheesecloth, and add to the pot.

Step 4: Simmer & Skim
Continue to gently simmer all the ingredients together for approximately 5-6 hours or more, until the stock tastes sufficiently flavorful and it seems that you have gotten the most out of the ingredients. Skim constantly during the simmering, and add water if the liquid level falls below the ingredients. Never allow the liquid to boil, or the fats can become incorporated into the liquid, creating a cloudy stock.

Step 5: Strain
Strain the liquid first through a colander or mesh strainer, then through a finer chinois or cheesecloth. Let only the liquid that passes through on its own, never pushing down on the strainer to squeeze liquid through. The liquid should be free of any particles, with only a minimal amount of grease/fat remaining. Repeat if necessary. Let the stock cool (preferably in an icewater bath), then place in refrigerator until it has solidified.

Step 6: Degrease
Take the refrigerated, solidified stock, and scrape any fat and grease that has hardened on the surface. This will look like a thin, whitish layer on the top.

Step 7: Reduce and Flavor
Reheat the stock until it has regained its liquid form, and taste it for flavor and strength. If it is weak, gently simmer off some of its water content and reduce to the desired strength & concentration. Add salt to taste. Depending on how much you reduce the stock, the recipe should yield approx. 8-12 cups.

Step 8: Store
After the stock has cooled, it is now ready to freeze or refrigerate for later use. I found it useful to freeze in 2 cup containers, along with an ice cube tray full of stock for quick, easy use.

Note: As an optional step to maximize the amount of stock the recipe will yield, you can also do a second extraction, or simmering of the ingredients, known as a remouillage (remoistening). Simply take the ingredients leftover from the first straining, and re-simmer them in cold water, again, for 5-6 hours or until ready. Then repeat the straining and degreasing process, and combine this 2nd stock with the first batch, and reduce/flavor as necessary.

Foer's "Eating Animals" and the Dialogue Over Sustainable Food:

 If you've been paying attention recently, you've seen that Jonathan Safran Foer's new book Eating Animals has been stirring up some lively debate coming from both sides of the meat-eating argument, including that widely publicized flare-up between Froer and Anthony Bourdain that started on Larry King Live last month.

Whatever your opinion may be of the book (you can take a look at reviews of the book at the New Yorker and here on New York Magazine), the fact that it's generating such a real, widespread discussion about our food is certainly another step forward in what is becoming one of the most important ongoing dialogues in America today. In a sense, Foer's book seems to be, so far, the most significant response (and critique) to the Michael Pollan school of thought, which has dominated the discussion since The Omnivore's Dilemma became the Bible for the sustainable food movement.


Safran's discussion about eating animals is obviously compelling.  But the reality is that vegetarianism is not a choice most people want to or are willing to make.  A far greater number of individuals are more interested in seeking viable alternatives for buying and consuming our foods, including meat, in a sustainable, conscientious way.  It is true that the amount of non-factory raised animals in the U.S. is miniscule in comparison to the actual consumption of meat.  But the fact that the awareness and demand for sustainably raised meat is growing so rapidly certainly is an encouraging sign and a step in the right direction.  And that's where the conversation needs to focus on now in order to really start making an impact on a larger scale.  Nicolette Niman has a great article dealing with this issue today on The Huffington Post, where she outlines an eater's guide to avoiding factory farmed foods.

Hopefully we will be seeing more of this kind of discussion in the future.

A Taste for Autumn, Part Two: The Apple Pie



Well, there was no way I was going to spend all day picking apples and then fail to make apple pie this fall. There was only the question of how. I knew I wanted something traditional, with a nice balance of sweetness and tartness, aromatic spices, and a few out of the ordinary ingredients to add something special. And of course the crust had to be great - light, flaky, buttery and flavorful. After scouring all of my cookbooks, most of the internet, every inch of my pantry, I mixed, matched, hybridized and customized, until I came up with what I think is a pretty damn good apple pie that I would be proud to serve anywhere.

To begin with, I used the Northern Spy apples that I picked this month. I am convinced that hand-picked anything makes everything better, so if I'm taking the time to make a pie from scratch, my apples are coming straight from the tree, to my hands, into a pie. In my search, I didn't see any recipes call for or suggest Northern Spies. By far, most of the suggestions were for Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and sometimes Jonagolds mixed in. Unlike most of those apples, Northern Spies are not widely available outside their growing regions in the northeast U.S. I assume this is mainly due to certain qualities (easy bruising, irregular shape) making them less than ideal for long-distance shipping and supermarket retailing. Nonetheless, it's a shame because they make for great pies. The flesh is very crisp, firm and juicy, and its flavor predominately tart with a mild sweetness and a lovely aroma. In addition, they tend to store very well due to their late maturation.



The crust, of course, is a matter of intense debate and scrutiny. Everyone seems to have their own opinion and swears by it. Essentially, all the crust recipes consisted one of the following: all vegetable shortening, a shortening/butter mixture, all butter, all lard, or a lard/butter mixture, of varying ratios. Because the shortening adds no flavor, and tends to leave a greasy residue on the palate, I wanted a recipe with no shortening. I dearly wanted to try a lard or lard/butter recipe, since the online consensus was that lard gives the best flavor. But I just didn't have the time to seek out a supermarket that had good processed lard, and definitely didn't have time to spend rendering lard myself. Also I was a bit weary of getting too meaty/savory of a flavor in the crust. Perhaps another time I'll get to play with lard. For this one, I settled on an all-butter crust recipe I found on saveur.com, and used a high fat european-style butter (in this case, Plugra), and basic all-purpose flour.

In contrast to the fairly rigid procedures for making a good crust, coming up with the filling is a different matter, one where you can actually play around and have a bit of fun with the ingredients. Here, I didn't want to stray too far from tradition, or include other fruits, vegetables or anything that would alter the character of traditional apple pie filling too much. It had to be an honest apple pie. But I was surprised at how overly simple most of the filling recipes i came across were; most were comprised of only apples, some type of sugar (brown and/or white), cinnamon and sometimes nutmeg, and either flour or cornstarch as a thickening agent. Some included lemon juice or a similar acidic element. All of that certainly amounted to a good starting point, but I wanted to elevate that by adding more complexity and layers of flavor, while still remaining true to it's essential character. So I started experimenting.

For the sweetening elements, I had two goals: it shouldn't be too sweet, and the sweet components needed to impart not only sugary sweetness, but flavor. So i used a combination of white sugar, brown sugar, and an italian chestnut honey, for extra flavor and a slightly bitter, amaro-like quality, which I think complements the apple nicely.



For spices, in addition to the basic cinnamon and nutmeg, I added clove, ground star anise, and cardamom. Again, here I wanted a spectrum of flavors and fragrances; the deep, pungent spice of the clove, the smoky, licorice-like mellowness of the star anise, the sweet, warm fragrance of the cinnamon, the nuttiness of the nutmeg, and the herbal, lemony undertones of the cardamom, all coming together, enhancing each other and the apples. I also added some salt to contrast the sweetness.

The apples themselves were nice and tart, but I still wanted to include some other subtle acidity and citrus flavors as well. For the citrus notes, i simply added lemon juice and some orange zest. For additional tartness, I added a mixture of fresh apple cider and apple cider vinegar, which also acted as a means to incorporate different apple flavors.

Finally, I wanted to include some liquor. I had a nice bottle of 8-year aged rum I brought back with me from Trinidad that fit the profile perfectly. Rum, being distilled from sugarcane molasses, seemed a natural choice, imparting a deep, caramel-vanilla quality. I also included some Cointreau for its bitter orange flavor, and an additional bit of sweetness.

It all adds up to a lot of ingredients and flavors playing together, so its really necessary to use them sparingly and avoid anything becoming too overpowering. Ok, maybe I could have left few things out and not really noticed. But they all had a distinct purpose, and the end result really paid off, with the subtleties and nuances all coming through, working together harmoniously and deliciously. Perfect? Probably not. I was more than happy with it, but the best endorsement was watching my girlfriend's empty pie plate being scraped clean before I could even get the words "how is it?" out of my mouth. That's good enough for me.

AUTUMN APPLE PIE RECIPE:

For the filling:
Combine all of the following, coating apples thoroughly and set aside, refrigerated.

6-8 Apples; Northern Spy or other tart, crisp variety, sliced into 1/8" pieces.

1 1/2 tsp. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. chestnut honey
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. clove
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground star anise
1 tbsp. rum (preferably oak-aged)
1/2 tsbp. cointreau or grand marnier
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. apple cider
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 1/2 tsp. orange zest

For the crust (adapted from saveur.com):

2 1/2 cups flour, sifted
2 tbsp. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp. kosher salt
18 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter (preferably european-style), cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
6-8 tbsp. ice water

Place flour, sugar and salt in food processor bowl and pulse to combine. Gradually add pieces of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with pea-sized bits of butter. Add the ice water 1 tbsp. at a time, pulsing to combine until the dough begins to hold together. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, divide in half, and form 2 dough balls. Flatten each dough ball to approximately a 1" thick disc. Wrap discs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Roll out the first disc into a 12" round, keeping the second disc refrigerated. Fit the rolled dough into a 9" pie plate.

Transfer the apple filling mixture into the pie plate and distribute evenly.

Roll out the second disc of dough into a 12" round. Brush the top of the first dough in the pie plate with some of the beaten egg, then place the second round of dough on top. Trim edges, and crimp around the edge with your finger. Brush the top with more of the beaten egg and sprinkle a little sugar on top. Make 4 slits in the top with a knife, and poke all over with a fork.

Place pie in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F. for another 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are cooked. Cool for 2 hours (if you can hold out that long) before serving. Proceed to devour, preferably with vanilla ice cream and good company.

A Taste for Autumn, Part One: Apple Orchards & Cider Doughnuts

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
- George Eliot



I will admit it. I look forward to autumn all year long. No other time of year speaks so profoundly to the soul or the senses and so clearly allows us to feel the passage of time and season. The feeling of cool, crisp weather and clear skies. The smell in the air. The changing of colors in the trees and on the ground. Even the psychological resonance of the season has a deeply bittersweet allure. There is a warm, introspective melancholy that sets in as we prepare for another winter.

But most of all, there is the food. For any dedicated gastronome, I can't imagine a better time of the year. All around the world, the bounty of fall's harvest is celebrated, and for good reason. Grapes, apples, truffles (for those lucky individuals), leafy greens, squashes and root vegetables of all types are being harvested and put to use. Wines are being made. Game and farm animals are hunted, butchered and stored for the winter. Autumn brings with it long, slow cooking methods, and hearty, comforting dishes with their spices and flavors filling rooms with heavenly aromas.



Growing up in upstate New York, fall has always been a time I savored, for all those reasons. One thing in particular I have always loved is the experience of visiting an apple orchard. Few things are as simply satisfying as picking an apple straight from the tree and eating it right there outdoors. Allowing your senses to be fully engaged as the apple's initial crunch gives way to cool juices, dripping sweet and tart flavors, clean and simple.

And then there is the apple cider and, even more deliciously, the cider doughnut. Both are foods that seem to exist only to be eaten together, at an orchard, in the fall, right where they're made. For those who have not eaten a cider doughnut in these ideal settings, let me describe what you have been missing. A good cider doughnut is a warm, perfect balance of textures and flavors, savory and sweet. The outside is surprisnigly crisp, with an almost rough crunchiness of fried batter, and a warm bit of residual oiliness. The inside is a dense but light and tender cake, slightly crumbly, with hints of cinnamon, spice and subtle sweetness. A perfect bite to wash down with some hot cider on a brisk day in October.

I know this is just a doughnut. But it's a great example of the kind of foods I love to eat. One of those fleeting delicacies whose sum is greater than their parts. The kind of food experience that takes something ordinary, elevates it, and affects our senses in a way that engages more than just our taste buds. It becomes a time, a place, a person. A memory. Something that stays with us long after the last bite is gone and keeps us coming back again and again. And in the end, isn't that what good food is all about?

The doughnuts may have been devoured within minutes, but in addition to a beautiful day, there is a bushel of apples I'll be taking home with me as well. Next, I think i'll put all those fresh-picked apples to good use...

Special thanks to Littletree Orchards, Newfield, NY.
www.littletree-orchards.com

And of course to my apple taster and all-around partner in crime, Nicole Sommer.

Gourmet Magazine & Irving Penn: The Death (and Rebirth) of an Era

The timing for the launch of "The Modern Gastronomer" seems appropriate. The last week has seen the passing of two legends, each emblematic of an era. Both associated with the sensibility of a different time and consciousness that seems to be either gone or irreversibly on its way out. A time with more depth and substance; slower, well-crafted, more thoughtful and intelligent. Both Gourmet Magazine and Irving Penn embodied these qualities. And so, along with seemingly everyone else I know, I am saddened and disheartened to see them go.




But with this loss comes a sense of purpose and hope for the future. I am reminded that no matter how many millions of links, comments or sound bites are being twittered across the internet every second, that real substance, content, inspiration, originality and passion have no substitutes. These are the things that keep us creating and keep us moving forward. Without that kind of real substance, all those mindless links, sound bites and comments are simply vultures circling their own dead.

I know I'm not alone in this feeling. Among friends and co-workers, many in the photography, food and publishing worlds, there is a feeling barely under the surface that something has to give. We cannot continue along the path of faster, easier, and dumber forever. The modern internet certainly has been democratizing, opening a whole new world of possibilities (and millions of opinions), but at what cost? Have we lost our taste for the real thing?

I, for one, would like to view the passing of Gourmet and Mr. Penn as not the death of an era, but a wake-up call; one to usher in a new era of substance and thought amidst a sea of fluff. This week, Chris Kimball's piece in the New York Times addressed this phenomenon, and urged those who feel the same to "swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools..." Hopefully, for all of us who feel the same, we can take on (or re-emphasize) a sense of pride and purpose in our works - placing our emphasis on quality and craft over speed and volume, and thoughfulness over timeliness, regardless of the medium we choose to deliver our work in.

An Introduction:

“Gastronomy is the intelligent knowledge of whatever concerns man's nourishment.”
-Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

"We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can find other nourishment, and tolerance and compassion for it, we'll be no less full of human dignity."
-M.F.K. Fisher

With these words in mind, welcome to "the modern gastronomer"...