Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Playing Pepper Roulette

The other evening I had dinner at Cookshop a wonderful restaurant located in my Manhattan neighborhood. I've lived for more than 20 years in Chelsea— far enough off the beaten path that really good restaurants have been hard to find. Over the last few years, restaurants have begun opening that I actually love and want to go back to.
Cookshop is definitely one of them. They do everything I appreciate in a restaurant: source sustainable ingredients, offer a creative menu without going over board, and put together an eclectic and interesting wine list.
On my last visit, I noticed they had added Padrone peppers to the menu. I've never seen these delicious morsels on a restaurant outside of Spain or California, where, as at Cookshop, they are most often fried whole, and seasoned with sea salt.

Eating Padrones is like playing pepper roulette: only one out of eight or so is hot. But that one is really, really hot, hot enough to make your eyes water and for you to get your hands on some bread pretty quickly. I had forgotten how much fun it was to eat them. I got my hot one after about the 4th one and survived. I've decided to look for Padrone seeds and plant some next year so I can have the experience more often.

Cookshop_156 10th Avenue_NYC_212.924.4440

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Crayfish Season in Stockholm

I’m back in Stockholm for the weekend and this time it’s crayfish season. On my last visit everyone was telling me about Krafiskiva parties, celebrations that start August 8th and involve eating crayfish, singing drinking songs, and tossing back aquavit or snaps, (a sip for each song) till you are fairly drunk. Shops all over Stockholm have crayfish displays and every restaurant is serving them.

My first crayfish experience was at Lisa Elmqvist, an incredible seafood restaurant and seafood shop open for lunch only and located inside Ostermalms Saluhall a 19th century indoor food market. I ordered them again at Wedholms Fisk, another favorite restaurant, for dinner. The Lisa Elmqvist crayfish were exceptional and casually served. The crayfish at Weldholms Fisk were also delicious and the elegant presentation was breathtaking, just like a still life.

The Swedish recipe calls for the crayfish to be blanched in hot water then put into an ice bath, cooked with sugar, water, beer and lots of salt. They are then poached covered with the liquid and when cool refrigerated overnight. Served with crown of dill, the ritual of eating them includes loud slurping sounds.

I got the hang of it after several crayfish and I must say the meat was so good and very different from the crayfish in Louisiana. The tail meat is plumper and sweeter. I began by drinking elderflower aquavit with them and saw at once how an evening of this could lead to some serious damage. I switched to white wine asap. Though crayfish are actually available much of the year, the Krafiskiva parties are summer rituals to treasure. I’m so happy to have had this experience to cap off my summer visit to Stockholm.

Wedholms Fisk
Nybrokajen 17
S-111 48 Stockholm
Telephone 08.611.78.74_

Lisa Elmqvist
Ostermalms Saluhall
114 39 Stockholm
Tel: 08-553-40-400

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Shake Shack

The Shake Shack, which opened two years ago in Madison Square Park in Manhattan, is an unassuming outdoor hamburger and hot dog stand, or roadside stand, as the owners call it. It has all the usual suspects hamburgers, hot dogs, milkshakes, fries etc. The only indication it's the latest baby of restaurateur Danny Meyer is the excellent ingredients and some very clever twists. (Okay, and the long lines, but they move quickly, so don't let that discourage you.

If Meyer's instructions to his chef /staff at the Shake Shack was "I want the food to taste like I remember it from my childhood" then the assignment was a big success. The hamburgers are fabulous, grilled to order and endearingly misshapen to signal that the meat is not commercial stuff.

The single cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato on a soft bun is my favorite. The Chicago-style hot dog was fine, but after eating grass fed hot dogs, I can't go back. The French fries were fried in good oil and crisp. The vanilla milkshake was so smooth and creamy and the "Arnold Palmer," a classic drink of half ice tea and half lemonade was incredibly refreshing. There are great beers on draft and fabulous wines by the glass ( or I should say disposable cup) and even splits of Billecart-Salmon champagne-hey you never know, when someone might want to propose. As in all of Meyer's restaurants, the service is excellent. Everyone is patient and helpful.

As pleasant as the Shake Shack is, the delicious food drives home the changes in how food is grown and produced in this country, especially our meat. The flavors at the Shack evoke memories of how fast food tasted before it became a multi-billion dollar industry. All restaurateurs ought to serve one or two dishes that make a statement, even something as simple as a grass fed hot dog. You might get some quibblers, but many people would support it and love it. (They do in California). More important, it's a beginning to help educate people. So, Danny, why not have the first grass fed hot dog available in New York at the best stand in New York City?

Shake Shack_Madison Square Park_NYC_212.889.6600_open daily 11am — 11pm

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Organic Wash for Fruits & Vegetables

I've just discovered that my favorite company La Compagnie De Provence in Marseille that produces fabulous organic liquid and bar soap is now producing a soap for vegetables and fruits. I prefer to leave the skin on any produce, so washing is essential, especially this time of year with all the great corn, tomatoes and other great produce coming from farm stands. (Even when I buy organic, the produce is handled by so many people that I feel better.) La Compagnie de Provence's soap is totally biodegradable (still, remember to rinse well), and can be ordered on line.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Part II Making Clotted Cream

It felt like Christmas, waiting anxiously for the morning to see how my clotted cream would turn out. So, here's what I found: the cream looked perfect, the texture was wonderful, but the milk was slightly sour. It was disappointing, but you always learn a little more about what makes a recipe work by experiencing a few failures. Armed with that slightly cheering thought, I went off to visit the farmer and his wife to tell them what had happened. Oh, said the wife, the milk should have been refrigerated overnight (I had put mine in the larder, which I thought was cool enough). The overnight part has to do with allowing enough time for all the cream to rise to the top. So when I come back to Devon, I'll give it another go.

Meanwhile, I've been enjoying one of the delicacies of Northern Devon-- a scone split in half, topped with clotted cream, a dollop of strawberry jam (Tiptree seems to be the favorite brand), and, if you have them, a few wild strawberries. A poetic combination. Honestly, you could eat 1/2 dozen at a sitting because these aren't the leaden scones I dislike so much in New York. They're light, airy, and only two inches in diameter.

I've also tasted several clotted creams from the area and my favorite is Rodda's Cornish Clotted Cream from Cornwall. It has a thin layer of butter on top of the cream and is made with the high butter fat milk from either Jersey or Guernsey.

As much as I hate leaving this beautiful place, I am so happy to have had my own clotted cream experience.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Part I Clotted Cream

I'm so excited to be in Northern Devon visiting old friends. This part of England is famous for its dairy and apple production and every time I come here I fall for the delicious clotted cream again. Before I explain what clotted cream is and how it is made, I should point out that part of my dietary mission in life is to unclot my arteries not block them up. Having said, that, the truth is that clotted cream is hard to resist. It isn't like anything else I've tasted.
One night after watching my friends scoop several large spoonfuls of clotted cream over chocolate cake, I asked how it was made. I became so intrigued by the process they described that I decided I wanted to make some. Better to make it than to keep eating it I figured. I went through some English cookbooks and found a recipe.

Here's the basic method: You start with un-pasteurized milk. We ordered some from the dairy farmer next door and it arrived in a blue plastic bucket. You then pour the milk into old Devon earthenware pots called panshons. You let it sit for 24 hours. Then you either place the bowl over embers from the fire from the night before or heat it for a day or in a very low oven like an aga for approximately 12 hours. You cannot allow the milk to boil or get too hot.

I will let you know how my batch turns out.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Monmouth Coffee Company

I’d just arrived in London and went straight to Borough Market, my favorite indoor/outdoor market located in the Southwark neighborhood of London. I was in desperate need of coffee and stopped at the Monmouth Coffee Company right outside the market. I rarely order a cup of regular coffee because it is usually watery or burned so I settle for an espresso or cappuccino. I was excited to see that the people at Monmouth have perfected what I think is the best method for making regular coffee--pouring the water for one cup at a time through a filter containing the coffee (the old Melita method). They have designed a unit to hold the filter and its cone just above the cup—either a white ceramic tumbler if you are drinking it there or your to go cup. Having just done a story on coffee for my upcoming larder column, I think that when I say that this is the best cup of coffee I’ve had, the statement carries some weight. Blue Bottle Coffee Co. in Berkeley, whose coffee I order at home, has a similar contraption at their shop though it’s more primitive and the filter sits too high above the cup. The Monmouth Coffee Co filter and cone is only a few inches above it and I think that might make a difference.

Monmouth sources their coffee from small farms, estates, and cooperatives around the world. The coffee they were making that day was from India, from the Bibi Plantation in the Karnataka State. It was very dark, had a fabulous dark sugar taste to it, and was very full bodied.

My dream is that Monmouth’s method of making coffee will catch on all over the U.S. It is so inspiring to see a place taking the process of buying and making coffee so seriously. Best of all, they seem to be doing well. The place is packed.

Sunday, August 6, 2006


"If there are more than three ingredients in my pasta it's not Italian," Nicola Marzovilla tells me while I'm sitting at the bar of Centovino enjoying a bowl of maccheroncini alla Bolognese. I couldn't agree more.

Centovino, is an Italian wine bar and wine shop created by Murray Moss and Franklin Getchell, the owners of Moss, the highly specialized design store and gallery in Soho, and Nicola Marzovilla, the owner of IlTrulli. So the place is as exceptional as you would imagine. You drink wine and water out of hand-blown Zwiesel crystal, eat off of Richard Ginori plates on tables of coated rubber. Everywhere you look there is a big, important chandelier hanging around, and yet your food is pure, simple Italian fare. The place feels like an extension of Moss's store but in place of the store's studied reverence, the wine bar comes to life, sort of like the film version of a favorite book. To underline this, the waiters wear tee shirts mocking the phrase that appears everywhere at Moss, "please do not touch."
A glass wall separates the bar from the wine store with its sensational Swarovski chandelier of colorful grape clusters. So if you had a wine you liked with your meal, you can go right next door and buy a bottle. Who could ask for more?

But let's get to the food and wine. The thin, salted breadsticks were the best I've ever had, and the sucrine salad ( bibb lettuce) with tomatoes, pecorino and pignoli was perfectly dressed with lots of lemon and generous chunks of pecorino. It was perfect on a 100-degree day. The maccheroncini alla Bolognese was made with home made pasta, fresh peas, and a rich Bolognese sauce. Nicola's mother makes the pasta everyday at Il Trulii. The black sea bass on Sicilian Capone melted in your mouth, and the tangy Caponatina ( their version of caponata) was sublime.

The wines by the glass were equally great. The 2004 Sauvignon Rondo die Sassy was rich and deep with wonderfully complex minerality, and the 2003 Valpolocella Classico Superiore from Bussola was perfect with the pasta. There are also lots of great regional wines to discover on this list.

Now for dessert! I had probably my favorite dessert of recent memory here. A watermelon granita layered with what I think was whipped cream, maybe mixed with some mascarpone and topped with some sort of candied watermelon rind. It was so unbelievably refreshing and delicious that I seriously considered coming back the next day to have it again.

Centovini_25 West Houston Street_NYC_
Wine Bar 212.219.2113_
Wine Shop 212.334.5348