Monday, October 27, 2008


The question from Jeffrey on my post "Cookbooks - Starter Set" reminded me that I wanted to discuss chickens. As I mention in that post, I love Hamersley's Walk-Away Chicken, and use this as my mother recipe for testing chickens because I have made it so many times that I can compare the result. This recipe works with any good chicken, including a Bell and Evans or Murray's. But I have found that the best chicken available in the supermarket is d'Artagnan's organic free-range chicken. I prefer 2.75-3.0 pounds, and roast it at 375 degrees for 1 1/2 hours or, better still, 1 hour and 10-15 minutes at 375 in a convection oven.

But then I discovered the really fantastic organic chickens available at Flying Pig Farms on Fridays and Saturdays at the Union Square Market, and the equally wonderful chicken produced by Lewis Waite Farm Group in upstate New York ( I am sure there are other wonderful organic chickens produced by smaller growers than d'Artagnan that will give great results. They make a great recipe even better.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oops, Left Out the Best Food Movie

Hard to believe, but my earlier post on food movies omitted the best food movie of all time (well, maybe second after Babette's Feast): Ratatouille. My wife saw it without me and concluded that I, Bobby Jay, am in fact Remy (see portrait above left), the charming Parisian rat/chef in the film, or vice versa; either way, I take that as a compliment. Thanks to the person who reminded me (and who wishes to remain anonymous).

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Food Movies

Food movies form a subgenre of food literature, and there have been some good ones. Of course, the best ones are not just about food, but about people in interesting situations. I list a few below, but solicit recommendations from others because I am sure I am omitting many.

The greatest food movie is certainly Babette's Feast, a French/Danish movie in which a French chef uses her dazzling cooking skills to wake up an entire Danish town of straight-laced protestants.

I also love The Big Night, which has a lot to say about the origins of interesting Italian food in America but also about family.

An excellent but less well-known food movie is a French movie, A Chef in Love, about a French chef in Georgia during the period of the Russian Revolution.

I also liked Mostly Martha (a German movie) and, to a lesser extent, the American remake, No Reservations.

And Chocolat, a nice story with the wonderful Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.

Although not a food movie, there are some magnificent (if somewhat implausible) food scenes in Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence.

Finally, two well-respected food movies that I don't know well are Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Food Shows on Television

I have to confess that I’ve become a TV cooking program junkie. I love Jacques Pépin and watch him when I can on PBS. More Fast Food My Way, which has just started, seems to continue where his fine Fast Food My Way left off. Also on PBS, I watch Lidia’s Italy, enjoying not only the cooking but also the information presented on the different regions of Italy. I have the companion books to all these series and all are full of practical, easily executed delicious recipes.

Most of my watching is on the Food Network, though. The important thing is to have a recording device (I have a DVR) so you can skip over the commercials (which cuts a 30-minute show down to 18 minutes) and the things you really have no interest in cooking. Watch them all and then choose those whose recipes seem consistent with your own cooking and life style, and whose shtick doesn’t bother you too much.

Recipes that you like are available on, which has an annoyingly complex web site.

That being said, I like

Good Eats, with Alton Brown. Pretty annoying shtick but really a treasure trove of information on specific foods and ingredients (for example, salt, pepper, bananas, eggs, chocolate, etc.) and good recipes, too.

Molto Mario, with Mario Batali. Lots of information about Italian regional specialties, and lots of fun to watch. The only problem is that I have had hit or miss results with the recipes. Editing, editing, editing.

Easy Entertaining, with Michael Chiarello. Very interesting takes on traditional dishes, and recipes that always seem to get delicious and impressive results.

Everyday Italian, with Giada de Laurentis. I always want to dislike this show, but many interesting, well-presented and clear recipes, which work in practice.

Boy Meets Grill, with Bobby Flay, one of the most brilliant and creative chefs around. I don’t have a grill and the recipes are a bit complex, but that’s because he’s creating multiple layers of flavors and textures in his brilliant recipes. Usually capable of being done on a stovetop grill pan or broiler.

Tyler’s Ultimate, with Tyler Florence. Enthusiastic chef with interesting whole menus and careful research; he really does create wonderful recipes by taking the best of the classics and simplifying for home use.

Jamie at Home, with Jamie Oliver. Great stuff, with his infectious personality and bold, bold use of herbs and spices. I’m only sorry I didn’t see his earlier series. By the way, the companion cookbook is excellent.

Healthy Appetite, with Ellie Krieger. Healthy dishes that are simple and delicious. A balanced approach to healthy eating.

Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, with Anne Burrell. A new series that looks promising. It seems to be what it purports to be: insights as to how the pros do it that you can use at home.

And I have to admit to liking Iron Chef, the Japanese prototype of which I used to watch in Japan in the late 1990's, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay. They are just fun to watch.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cookbooks I - Starter Set

As I said in an earlier post, I love cookbooks and have many. I plan to discuss many of them in this and coming posts. For my very first cookbook discussion, I thought I would make some suggestions for how to put together a small basic collection. My intention is to come up with a list for people who think they can’t cook, either for lack of time or lack of skill. So these books have really easy recipes for delicious and attractive food that can be presented to company. This list is totally idiosyncratic, and there are many other approaches one could adopt. Also, it does not include books on any of the more exotic cuisines - Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern - or on vegetarian or vegan cuisine, all of which are subjects in themselves.

By the way, a collection like this, possibly combined with a subscription to Gourmet, Bon Appétit or Cook's Illustrated, would make a great engagement present.


Jacques Pépin is a great chef and a fantastic teacher. I have many of his books and have watched him often on his TV series. A couple of years ago, he did a series called Fast Food My Way and the accompanying book is wonderful. I use it often when I don’t have or want to spend too much time, and the recipes are reliable and easy. I gave this book to my French teacher, who uses it often for entertaining and receives many compliments on her meals.

A less well-known book is Bistro Cooking at Home, by Boston chef and restaurant owner Gordon Hamersley. The recipes are well conceived and edited, and easy to prepare. Just to name a couple, the Coq au Vin is outstanding, and the Walk-Away Roast Chicken is the best (and easiest) roast chicken I have ever made: it is my wife’s favorite dish.

Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking is another trove of authentic well-chosen French recipes. Although not foolproof, I have had an awful lot of good meals based on recipes in this book.


Everyone loves Italian food, so any starter set of cookbooks needs to include several in this category. Fortunately, there are millions.
An amazingly simple one is Every Night Italian, by Giuliano Hazan, Marcella Hazan’s son. His aim is to show you how to prepare simple dishes with great ingredients, I believe he succeeds. When you read the recipes, they look a bit boring, but the proof is in the tasting and the results are delicious.

Risotto, by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman, gives you a foolproof technique for making risotto and an abundance of recipes. Risotto is always a crowd pleaser, and everyone thinks it’s hard to make; this book proves that wrong, but you needn’t tell your guests.

Diana Seed’s The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces is exactly what it purports to be, and is an invaluable book.

If you want to get a little fancier, there is Marcella’s Hazan’s great Elements of Classic Italian Cooking, which contains many wonderful recipes from all over Italy; they are well-selected and reliable.


For a bunch of great recipes that always seem to come out well, I recommend The Union Square Cafe Cookbook, by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano. Very sophisticated food that is within anyone’s reach due to this beautifully edited book.

Finally, I guess anyone should have a basic reference, and probably The Joy of Cooking is as good as any. I don’t use it often, but it is encyclopedic and has a lot of useful information about ingredients and methods.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Paris Spice Merchant

Goumanyat & Son Royaume is a super spice store in Paris, located at 3 rue Charles-François Dupuis, in the 3eme. This is the relatively new retail outlet of Jm Thiercelin, a 6th- or 7th-generation spice manufacturer (founded 1809) located in Melun, not far from Paris. This company actually makes the spices, with raw materials obtained throughout the world.

I had an interesting conversation with the very thoughtful M. Thiercelin about how he procures the best quality spices (with expertise, of course, but also with 200 years of relationships), the future of agriculture throughout the globe and other interesting food related topics.

The spices are great, especially saffron, which is a specialty, and the many, many proprietary mixtures. Also to be found here are infused oils of every kind, herbal, shellfish, etc.(click on image at left), and syrups infused with different peppers (click on image below).

Definitely worth a trip, especially if you're on your way to the nearby Marché des Enfants Rouges on the rue de Bretagne for lunch or grocery shopping.

Bobby Jay

General Thoughts on Cookbooks

I love to read cookbooks and have quite a collection. In future entries I will discuss many of them, but here I want to stress the importance of good editing. Many cookbooks with a famous provenance, particularly those purportedly written by famous chefs, have appetizing recipes that don't work (or at least not for me). Others, by unexpected authors, are fantastic, and the recipes almost always produce great results. I always try to make a point of looking carefully at some of the more basic recipes (like coq au vin, apple tart and basic vinaigrette in the case of French cooking) before buying a cookbook and seeing whether the techniques, ingredients and tools required are reasonably available and simplified (but not too much) for home use. I find that technical illustrations and good pictures of the final product are very helpful. Careful pre-screening is by no means foolproof, but should avoid the worst mistakes. When I have failed to do it, as when I discovered an alluring title on line, I have often been disappointed.

Bobby Jay

Amazing Boudin Blanc

I do not expect to offer New York restaurant reviews on my blog unless there is something really special to report, and I found something that falls into that category last night. It was the boudin blanc at Bar Boulud, on Broadway opposite Lincoln Center, which was the best I have ever eaten. The charcutier is a master from Lyon and and all his charcuterie is delicious, but this was truly exceptional! I can't wait to return for the boudin noir.

Bobby Jay

Knife Skills

I took Norman Weinstein’s basic Knife Skills 1 Workshop at ICE (The Institute of Culinary Education) about a year ago, and I recommend it heartily. I went expecting to learn a pointer or two, but quickly found that I was using my knives in a totally incorrect manner! Now I do much better, in terms of speed, efficiency and safety, and I enjoy chopping and slicing whenever I can. I am eager to try Knife Skills 2, which focuses on boning and carving. Norman has a book out on knife skills, but I have not yet looked at it and cannot comment on it.

Bobby Jay

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another Food Book

I knew I had left out some interesting food books in my earlier post.

One of these is Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, by Hervé This. It is interesting and readable despite a fair dose of science that a lay person will not understand. It gives you insight into some of the cutting edge cooking being done in Spain and elsewhere using liquid nitrogen, sous-vide convection baths, various gels, etc.

Bobby Jay

Community Supported Agriculture

A friend is a member of an organic farm in Kinderhook, New York called Roxbury Farm. By paying an annual membership fee, she is entitled to 26 produce drops a year, which are delivered to a church on the Upper West Side. She has shared some of the produce with me, and she gave me her allocation for 3 weeks during which she was travelling. The produce was of excellent quality, and it feels good to support local organic growers. Also, you get what they give you, and it's a great challenge to use it all. We all know what to do with wonderful corn and tomatoes, but braising greens, kale, and the like are less familiar, at least to me. A great discovery was Delicata squash, which is really subtle and delicious.

There are other farms in addition to Roxbury, but it is hard to find one that has openings and makes dropoffs in a convenient place. To learn more, search "community supported agriculture new york" or some such phrase on Google or a comparable search engine.

An easier way to support local organic farming is to go to your nearest farmers market. I go to Union Square, which is not my nearest but is much much bigger. The produce is fantastic and varied and it is a thrill to see such magnificent fruits and vegetables. There's also organic chicken, lamb and beef and some amazing cheeses. While prices are generally high, it is really worth it: I have become addicted to the incredibly expensive ($6.00 per 1/4 pound) mesclun I found at one place, which is as good as the best I have found in Paris.

Organizing Recipes

Apart from cookbooks (much more on that later), I keep recipes in a folder on my computer (a Mac), with subfolders for different categories, such as beef, chicken, pork, vegetables, fish and seafood, frozen desserts, etc. I now have about 1400 recipes culled over the years from Gourmet, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, France-Amerique and other publications, as well as recipes from friends and family (for example, Shawan's Mom's St. Louis Style Chili or Teresa's Duck). It is fun and at times moving to stumble across the last category: each recipe evokes memories of a specific occasion and a wonderful dish.

I scan the recipes onto the computer using an inexpensive Canon CardScan LIDE 90. I copy my recipe folder periodically onto a 4 Gig thumb-size drive, which I can take and use anywhere. Last summer we visited friends in Perigord and I cooked a couple of meals from recipes that I had stored on this minuscule device.

Bobby Jay

Cooking Journal

I keep a journal of all meals I cook, setting forth the date, the meal and who was present, followed by each dish served, the source of the dish and comments. This enables me to improve the recipe if I use it again, and to avoid serving the same people the same dishes.

I use the template set out below:

Date | Meal | People Present

Course | Selection(s) | Source | Comment

Hors d’oeuvres
Side 1
Side 2

Bobby Jay

Food Literature

An excellent book for food lovers is Une Gourmandise, by Muriel Barbery, who also wrote the award-winning and really brilliant l'Elegance du Herisson (now out in English translation as The Elegance of the Hedgehog). Une Gourmandise is the story of an influential food critic who is on his death bed and wants, before he dies, to recreate the signal food experience of his life. There are fantastic riffs on grilled fish, potatoes, and many other foods and experiences, and a satisfying ending. The French is relatively easy to read, without complex structure, but still it's French.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Food Biographies

I'm not a huge reader of books by chefs and other food professionals, but still have read quite a number.

I very much enjoyed Jacques Pépin's The Apprentice and Julia Child's My Life in France. They both know food, France and how to tell a story. For lovely stories about life and food in the French provinces, try Susan Herrmann Loomis' On Rue Tatin and Georgeanne Brennan's A Pig in Provence.

I liked Judith Jones' The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food a lot less, and I found Bill Buford's Heat to be interesting but lacking something. I thought Anthony Bourdain's classic Kitchen Confidential was a more exciting "view of the restaurant from inside."

Although written by critics as opposed to practitioners, the great The Food of France by Waverly Root and A.J. Liebling's Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris stand above the rest for insight into the majesty of French cuisine.

I recently read a nice little book, Untangling My Chopsticks, by Victoria Riccardi, which deals with the amazing food that is part of the tea ceremony. If you are interested in Japan (where I and my wife lived for three years), she gives you plenty of good insights and fun anecdotes.

A quirky book, and a good read, is Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell, a young New York City woman who didn't know how to cook but decided to cook every recipe in Julia Child's seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Funny and moving.

I think I'm leaving some out and will add to the list later.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cleaning Enamel Pots

I have some wonderful Le Creuset enamel pots, which had a lot of baked-on dirt and grime. I finally hit on the idea of cleaning them with Easy Off Oven Cleaner. Success! With little effort, they are now like new.

Bobby Jay

First Posting

This is the first posting on my newly created blog, bobbyjayonfood. Many of my friends have encouraged me to share my thoughts and experiences relating to cooking, eating, restaurants, food products and ingredients, kitchen equipment and other matters relating to cuisine. I hope this will be of use to others and perhaps even to myself by creating a central place to organize my otherwise random thoughts and ideas.

I do not plan to offer reviews of New York restaurants; there are already enough reviewers and points of view. I will, however, discuss things that I discover at restaurants that may be of interest to others. I will offer brief reviews of selected Paris restaurants, as I am often asked for suggestions by people planning trips to that marvelous and beautiful city. In particular, I will report from time to time on my ongoing quest for excellent, reasonably-priced restaurants in Paris; fortunately, there are many.

Please comment liberally on any of my posts or on others' comments, or share your own ideas, discoveries and recipes in new posts. Let's all learn together!

Bobby Jay