Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paris - Fromagerie Quatrehomme

Last time I was in Paris I made my first trip to Fromagerie Quatrehomme, one of the best and best-known cheese stores in Paris, but could only purchase one cheese because I was getting ready to return to New York. Located in the seventh arrondissement, near La Grande Épicerie at Bon Marché, this affineur's cheeses are often mentioned by name on the menus of upscale restaurants.

Yesterday, this time on the first day of my stay in Paris, I returned. As I was greeted by the complex odor of commingled earthy expressions of cow, goat and sheep, my jet lag vanished and I was able to focus on the job (really joy) at hand. I bought four cheeses and a wedge of fresh butter cut by wire from a slab (motte). When I asked for a camembert that would be perfect for dinner that day, the server applied her trained thumbs and nose to the task and rolled her eyes with pleasure when she found the right one (she was right). She also explained the difference between St Félicien and St Marcellin, which look the same in all respects but size: true, she said, but the larger St F is creamier as a result of its size. Still, the St M was delightfully light and creamy. I also bought a crottin-like chèvre and some Fourme d'Ambert, which were perfect specimens of their types.

People often tell me they envy my frequent trips to Paris. Mes amis, Fromagerie Quatrehomme is a good reason to do so.

Fromagerie Quatrehomme, 62 rue de Sèvre, 75007 Paris (Métro Duroc or Vaneau).

Bobby Jay

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Anthony Bourdain vs. Paula Deen et al.

I have great respect for Anthony Bourdain and immensely enjoyed his Kitchen Confidential and, to a lesser extent, his television shows and other writings. He is extremely knowledgeable about food and a witty raconteur.

The criticisms he recently and very publicly leveled against Paula Deen and a number of other Food Network stars were legitimate, but his decision to attack the TV chefs personally served only to change the focus from the worthwhile issue - the unhealthfulness of much of the food presented - to the personalities involved, including himself. Ratcheting down his exuberant rhetoric might have led to a worthwhile debate on the responsibility (if any) of television food networks to preach the gospel of healthy food. This is a complex issue, and, although I deplore much of what is shown on Food Network, I feel there is enough good stuff to balance it out. Besides, I am suspicious of too much paternalism, even when I agree with the thrust of it; generally, it's better to let people choose what they like.  And in any event who's to say it's not better to make fried chicken at home than to buy it at Popeye's?

Personally, I am a Food Network junkie, but I cannot watch Paula Deen because the food she prepares gives me the creeps. I don't think it's amusing, as Alton Brown recently pointed out, that there is a new measure of butter called a "Paula." And I was appalled watching the new show The Pioneer Woman, today, when Ree Drummond and Paula (guest starring) were joking about how many pounds of butter they keep around and how they cannot fathom cooks who measure butter in mere sticks. This is a terrible message to be sending in the midst of an obesity/diabetes crisis.

HOWEVER . . . there is a huge amount of great and wholesome food showcased on Food Network and its companion Cooking Channel. Beautiful simple Italian dishes (David Rocco, Mario Batali, Gabriele Corcos) feature what is essentially the Mediterranean diet, with heart-healthy olive oil instead of butter and the focus on excellent seasonal ingredients. Mark Bittman (The Minimalist) makes it his mission to get people cooking easy and flavorful food which, not incidentally, is not laden with fat. Ellie Krieger's Healthy Appetite features excellent, low-fat nutritious dishes. And even Bobby Flay's more complex offerings are not particularly loaded with fat and cholesterol; in addition, he occasionally features healthy meals. There are many other good chefs and shows, and plenty of opportunities to learn great recipes that are good not only for the soul, but for the body. Sure, there are many items that I consider to be too fat- or cholesterol-laden, at least for every day, but that's a personal choice.

For a list of the Food Network and Cooking Channel shows I like, click on  More below:

Aarti Party (Indian or Indian-influenced food)
All Bobby Flay cooking shows (Boy Meets Grill, Grillit!, Bobby's Barbecue Addiction)
Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentis
Extra Virgin with Debi Mazar and her Tuscan chef husband, Gabriele Corcos)
Molto Mario (Batali)
David Rocco's La Dolce Vita
Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello
Secrets of a Restaurant Chef with Anne Burrell (just ratchet back on the salt)
Spice Goddess with Bal Arneson
French Food at Home with Laura Calder
The Minimalist with Mark Bittman
Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger

Good Eats with Alton Brown
Tyler's Ultimate with Tyler Florence (the old ones where he cooks)
Jamie (Oliver) at Home

This does not cover the many excellent cooking shows that can be found on educational channels, featuring some fantastic chefs who prepare a lot of delicious yet sane food, most notably Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pépin, Ming Tsai and Rick Bayless.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bobby Jay is Now on Twitter

I have joined Twitter, username @BobbyJayOnFood. I have only been on it for about 10 days, and am so far keeping a pretty low profile, following mainly food writers.  Even so, I have found some interesting people following the same writers, and have already discovered some new bloggers to follow and at least one good recipe. In addition to my blog posts, I expect to share quick thoughts on (primarily but not only) food and provide links to content that I think others will find interesting.

Not many people are following me yet, but hopefully that will come in time.

I have also placed Twitter (and other) buttons under my posts so that others can tweet them to their own Twitter feeds if they are so inclined.

Bobby Jay

The CSA Farm is Winning

My friend Piglet and I share a food share in Roxbury Farm, a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm in Kinderhook, NY. A full share costs about $500, payable before the season starts, and entitles us to 26 food drops at a church in New York City, starting in June. Fruit shares are extra.

It feels good to support our wonderful farmers, Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt, and their dedicated team, and to buy responsibly produced organic produce.  I enjoy reading their weekly newsletters describing the challenges and successes in coping with weather, insects, birds and the other facts of farm life.  Often the letters are quite inspiring.

It's also fun to get the food drops: you never know exactly what to expect for a given week, and it takes some ingenuity to use the entire basket, especially when some less than standard vegetables, like kale, collard greens and kabocha squash, are featured. Especially in mid-summer, the baskets are huge and this year the farm is clearly winning.

Pictured is this week's basket, fairly typical for this time of year.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

En Passant (2) . . .

From time to time, ideas cross my mind, often in response to questions from friends, that are worth writing about, but do not individually merit full posts. This is the second post in a series devoted to such matters.

Tomato Juice

Tomato juice is an overlooked morning pick-me-up. Unlike most fruits, tomatoes are better for you when cooked so the juice form is excellent from the standpoint of nutrition. Lycopines, etc. It's also low in calories: just 30 for a 4-oz portion.

Of course, you can drink it as-is, but what I do is to start with great tomato juice, namely Knudson's organic, and make it into Virgin Mary mix. I spice it up by adding 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 - 1 tsp of Kosher salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp powdered celery seeds per quart. I add a few drops of hot sauce just before drinking but this is not for everyone, especially in the morning. The key is to use whatever spices you want and enjoy.

Almond Milk

My friend Piglet gave me some almond milk to try, and I have to say it is surprisingly fresh and tasty. A nice, low calorie alternative to milk without the veggie taste of soy milk. Calcium is added. Note that this dish is sweetened with can juice, but still has only 30 calories per 4-oz serving. Lower-sugar versions have the same calorie count but higher carbohydrates, so I would stay with the full-strength version unless sugar, as opposed to carbs, is a problem for you.

I still have not figured out how to use this product apart from drinking it straight. It's quite thin. Doesn't appeal as a coffee sweetener, but might be great with bananas or other fruit in a smoothie. Ideas, please.

Vanilla Cardamom Yogurt

A great virtuous addition to fruit or berries, cooked or raw, is vanilla cardamom yogurt. I discovered this watching Michael Chiarello make his his Zinfandel poached peaches, and have been hooked ever since.

This takes about 5 seconds to make: simply add 1/2 to 1 tsp of cardamom powder to 1 small container of no-fat vanilla yogurt, preferably but not necessarily Greek style. That's it.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, August 13, 2011

New York - Great Dinners at Del Posto and Gramercy Tavern

While I don't do reviews of New York restaurants (there is so much, perhaps too much, information to be had already), I do from time to time mention noteworthy experiences of sheer excellence at New York establishments.

This week my wife and I dined at Del Posto and Gramercy Tavern. Two great meals in two great restaurants. The two meals both featured imaginative, excellent dishes but in totally different idioms, and both restaurants featured attentive, capable service, quite formal at Del Posto and more casual at Gramercy Tavern. Perhaps my best compliment is to say that they both made it look easy, while we know that running a great restaurant is among the most challenging of endeavors.

At Del Posto, we had the menu tradizionale, pictured below, with a couple of perfect substitutions for my wife, who can't eat beef and doesn't like eggs.

At Gramercy Tavern, I had a sublime corn custard, followed by a grilled and slow-roasted lamb duo and a peanut butter semi-freddo. Others had creative preparations of shrimp, duck and pork.

Neither experience comes cheap. The "menu tradizionale" at Del Posto is $145 without wine, and the three-course prix fixe at Gramercy Tavern is a relative bargain at $88, with tasting menus in triple digits. But they are both worth the price, for they provide not just great food but wonderful, total dining experiences.

Del Posto, 85 Tenth Avenue; Gramercy Tavern, 42 East 20th Street.

Bobby Jay

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tomatoes Tomatoes Tomatoes

For me, this time of year is about tomatoes, especially but not only heirloom varieties.

My favorite way to eat them (shown above) is the way Jamie Oliver does it:

Cut up a big bunch of heirloom tomatoes of various shapes, sizes and colors, salt them for 30 minutes in a colander, then mix them with dried oregano, good vinegar and olive oil and pepper, add torn pieces of soft mozzarella and basil leaves. Cut some in horizontal slices, and cut others into quarters or eighths, according to their sizes and shapes.

The taste and texture of the tomatoes and the simple dressing mingled with their juices screams SUMMER!!!!

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Santa Fe - Farmers Market

I love farmers markets and recently visited the justly famous one at the Santa Fe Railyard. Open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, it is full of beautiful, organically grown produce, featuring many many varieties of green and red peppers (some roasted - see below) as well as prepared foods like salsas, chile sauces and powders, cheeses, flowers, herbs, etc. The farmers who sell there are infectiously proud of their products, making the experience not just interesting but actually moving.

Red peppers and currants and heirloom carrots

Peppers and a pepper roaster who's happy in his work

You learn about people and culture as well as food when you visit farmers markets and Santa Fe's is a fascinating one.

Bobby Jay

Santa Fe - Bobcat Bite

Bobcat Bite is a famous little hamburger place just outside of Santa Fe that our friend Ed recommended. I had the signature green chile cheeseburger with perfect home fries. The place has just four tables and a nine-seat counter, so the wait was long, but the burger, made from home- (and slightly coarsely-) ground choice boneless chuck, was worth the wait.

Waiting my turn at Bobcat Bite

The menu at Bobcat Bite

A must if you're in Santa Fe.

Bobcat Jay

Santa Fe - Dining

My wife and I were in Santa Fe last week and, among other things, got to sample some of the local fare. Our best meals were at friends' homes, but we did eat out and had good, better and truly excellent meals.

We dined at the renowned Cafe Pasqual's, which serves good Southwestern style cuisine in convivial surroundings. There is a communal table where people seem to meet and talk to strangers and generally have a good time. This place is mobbed at breakfast, but I can't say anything from personal experience.

Another good place was Ristra, also for Southwestern food, where we discovered elk, which is a tasty, healthy alternative to beef, which my wife can't eat.

For Southwestern food, a better bet is Coyote Cafe, where it was more or less invented 30 years ago. Here the food was interesting and very well executed.

Shrimp tower and roast and confited chicken at the Coyote Cafe

One night we had a late meal at Shibumi, a new Japanese noodle place, where the ramen and izakaya (pub-style) dishes were quite authentic. This is a new venture of the chef owner of Nostrani, a highly rated Italian restaurant that we didn't get to. He trained for a couple of years at the New York branch of Omen, the famous Kyoto noodle restaurant, so the authenticity is well-earned.

But my personal favorite was Bobcat Bite, which is worth its own post.

Bobby Jay