I just got a package of new Japanese salts and one sugar from Chris Cosentino of San Francisco’s Incanto, whose wife, Tatiana, spotted them when the two checked out the San Francisco Fancy Food Show this month. The Japan Salt Corporation would love to import them to the States if they can find a distributor. Chris and his pal Ravi Kapur of Boulevard are doing what they can to help, so that they can start cooking with them.
° Hokkaido salt
Japanese regional sea salts, anyone? Along with this crunchy, assertive sea salt from Hokkaido, Chris says the company also has salts from other Japanese port towns like Okinawa, each with their own distinctive textures, grain sizes and flavors.
° Cherry blossom salt
An extraordinary pale pink color, with a very gentle saltiness, for a salt. From the limited conversation Chris was able to muster with the importers, the low-sodium grains are used to dehydrate the blossoms, which give them their color.
°Cane sugar powder
Similar to brown sugar but with a much richer flavor and a surprising creaminess from its very fine grains, “it’s [extremely] mind-blowing,” Chris says, using a different word not for publication. “It has this rich, deep complex flavor, almost like bourbon. It’s like they’ve aged it in an oak barrel for 10 years. I can’t wait to marinate pork belly in it, or use it to finish brûlées.”
I'd buy Country Life butter—for no other reason than because I can't imagine a bigger disconnect between product and spokesperson. In this spot on British TV , John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, is seen in a stuffy private-club reading room, at a cricket match, driving through the countryside in a vintage Bentley and on a country estate running from cows. All silly, indeed, but the biggest disconnect is the twee suburban kitchen where he breakfasts on tea and toast in a boring plaid bathrobe. (Probably not that far from the truth.)
There are more widely available (and less hawked by notorious D-list celebs) butters, like Meyenberg (pale white) goat-milk butter, which is so delightfully goaty that I find it irresistible. Organic Valley cultured unsalted butter is another one of my favorites, with a slightly tangy flavor and lovely yellow hue. Both are great with steamed fish, which allows the sweetness and silkiness to come through.
The final lesson from John Gertsen, bar manager of Drink in Boston, was about the evolution of the cocktail. I learned that part of the beauty of a cocktail is its history, its roots. Just like a great recipe, a great cocktail can often be traced back to a classic. Case in point: Drink’s signature, the Fort Point.
Five years ago, when Gertsen was living in New York, he ordered a classic Manhattan at the venerable cocktail den Milk & Honey, then requested a second drink. "I didn't want another Manhattan, so I asked for something similar, and the bartender just nailed my flavor profile," says Gertsen. The natural choice was a Brooklyn, a variation of the Manhattan. But the cocktail craftsman behind the bar, Enzo Enrico, put a spin on the Brooklyn, creating the Red Hook, in honor of the South Brooklyn neighborhood.
This modern Brooklyn variant has spawned several interesting neighborhood-inspired derivations, including the the Chartreuse-spiked Greenpoint, the Slope, the Bensonhurst and Death & Co.’s Cobble Hill.
Gertsen looked to these drinks as inspiration for his Fort Point, named after Boston’s warehouse district turned up-and-coming arts 'hood.
The Fort Point
2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye
1/2 ounce Punt e Mes
1/4 ounce Benedictine
Pour all ingredients over hand-cracked ice in a chilled glass pitcher. Stir thoroughly but gently, being careful not to incorporate too much air into the liquid. Pour slowly into a pre-chilled cocktail glass. Serve with a Benedictine flavored cherry on the side.
I am very excited about a catalog I received last week: the Maine Potato Catalog from Wood Prairie Farm, an organic business in Bridgewater, Maine. The company sells an extensive list of vegetables seeds and gardening supplies but I am most interested in the 17+ potato varieties with names like Island Sunshine, Cranberry Red and King Harry. Owners Jim and Megan Gerritsen are thrilled about a new "beautiful and delicious” potato they spent years developing called the Prairie Blush, which they describe as "a major discovery that marries great potato taste and quality with excellent suitability to organic growing.” You can order separate varieties or a sampler box. Or you can sign up for a potato-of-the-month package. I can't wait to try those Prairie Blush spuds in Lydie Marshall's "Braised Pork with Shallots and Potatoes" recipe.
For quite some time now, the only lamb I've been able to buy is from New Zealand. Thanks to Costco, it's cheap and sold in bulk (good for feeding my family). The only downside is that I never find it all that flavorful. I guess that's fine if you don't like the taste of lamb, but then you should just buy beef...
A friend sent me eight lamb loin chops from an American lamb farmer, and I was eager to try them. After a quick marinade in garlic, olive oil and a hit of balsamic vinegar, I seared them and finished them in the oven. They were tender, succulent and lamb-y (not a baaaad thing, in my book). It was like the lamb of my childhood—packed with flavor, not like the overbred bland lamb I've grown accustomed to.
Here's my easy recipe:
8 lamb loin chops, (preferably American), about 1 1/2-inches thick
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°. In a resealable plastic bag, combine the lamb with the garlic, rosemary, vinegar, 1/4 cup of the oil and very generous pinches of salt and pepper. Seal the bag and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Drain the lamb, reserving the marinade. Heat the remaining oil in a large ovenproof skillet until shimmering. Add the lamb and cook until browned all over, about 6 minutes, turning once. Add the marinade, transfer to the oven and roast for about 5 minutes longer for medium-cooked lamb.
John Gertsen, bar manager at Drink in Boston, insisted that if I was serious about becoming a cocktail connoisseur, then I absolutely had to learn to make a proper martini—proper meaning the late-19th-century martini, as opposed to the 20th-century version. I’d nearly mastered mixing a pretty damn good martini using Noilly Prat vermouth. But it looks like I’ll have to remaster the drink, since Noilly Prat is reverting to its original, European recipe. The new Noilly Prat formula was brought to my attention in a piece by Eric Felten in the Wall Street Journal, which ponders the fate of the American martini in the face of this sweeter, cloudier vermouth. Felten’s take: “World-weary sophisticates for whom the martini is a violet-hour balm will want to look elsewhere for the cocktail component, perhaps trying the dry French vermouths from Boissiere or Dolin.” Looks like I’ll need to restock my bar.
You don’t get much hipper than Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side. It's shoebox-sized, brand new and vegetarian. And then there's the name, which seems simultaneously evocative and confusing. (A friend I’d invited to dinner kept calling the place Dirty Candy.)
I was impressed the second our first courses arrived. Chef and owner, Amanda Cohen, formerly of Manhattan's raw foods restaurant Pure Food and Wine, is super creative with her fruits and vegetables and the dishes are beautifully plated and colorful. There’s no meat, and it doesn’t matter.
I love Greek salad, so I ordered Dirt Candy’s, a fabulous combination of chopped tomato and cucumber, lots of parsley, oregano and dill, Greek feta, Sicilian pistachios and a tangy preserved lemon mayonnaise—topped with towering rings of fried Trumpet Royale mushrooms. I wondered how Cohen makes these delectable crunchy mushroom-donuts that provided heft and fatty-goodness. The rings, I learned, are nothing more than Trumpet mushrooms with the center cut out via a pastry ring, panko-breaded and thrown in the fryer.
The Mixed Greens with Grilled Cheese Croutons and Garlic Vinaigrette were dressed up with my second favorite item: grapefruit lollipops. Cohen says that making the pops is like candying apples. She melts sugar then dips in the speared segments and lets them dry. The boiled syrup forms the thinnest, shiny-clear crust around the juicy fruit, and it's kind of like eating a cherry cordial.
I left Dirt Candy full, satisfied and intrigued by Cohen’s playful and delicious take on vegetarian food. And thinking of ways to serve the fried Trumpet mushrooms at home. (Perhaps with the preserved lemon mayonnaise for dipping).
I celebrated the new year in Boston, which gave me the opportunity to check out Barbara Lynch’s innovative new cocktail bar, Drink. The genius of Drink is that there is no actual drink list—daunting to the cocktail novice, but at the same time, extremely helpful in my pursuit of cocktail knowledge. The lack of choice forced me to ask questions and interact with the bartenders. Bar manager John Gertsen helped me better understand my go-to cocktail, the gin and tonic. I wanted to know what, in his opinion, is required to elevate a G&T to perfection. His expert opinion:
1) A good, aggressive gin that won’t be overwhelmed by the tonic water. While English gins are always best with a classic G&T, Drink also stocks Anchor Brewing Co.’s Junípero, which has a great, junipery snap.
2) Tonic water that has a bit of a bite to it. Gertsen makes a light-pink-colored tonic water at Drink with citrus peel, citric acid, cinchona bark and quassia chips, which have a resinous, piney quality.
I'm very excited about an upcoming Tasting & Testing column for which I get to develop a great recipe for ramen—Japanese noodle soup. I've made it to a few New York City ramen shops, Rai Rai Ken and Ippudo —for some much-needed research. What's nice about the more low-key places (those that serve noodles at a counter facing the kitchen) is that I can pretty much see everything that goes into my bowl just by standing up—very helpful when working on a new recipe. I saw what went into the stock, how they cooked the noodles, how they dressed the bowls, etc.
What I missed there, I learned from watching Cooking With Dog on YouTube . On this show, a woman demos all sorts of Japanese dishes, from ramen to katsudon (fried pork cutlet) to okonomiyaki (Japanese egg foo yong). Beside her, perched on a wooden stool next to the countertop hot plate, sits a gray toy poodle. The eponymous "Dog," though not directly addressed, is very well behaved—never nibbling at the skillet or pawing at the ingredients or acting up, as dogs often do when in front of the camera. He just sits there like a curly gray Buddha, observing. He is rewarded, however, with a small treat at the end of each segment. There's much to learn about ramen here—for example, that the sliced, braised pork needs to be crisped under the broiler before it goes onto the soup, and that by squeezing the pork you release the fat (really?). But having once been the owner of an ill-tempered mutt, what I'd really like to know is, how did they train "Dog"?
One of the world's finest citrus fruits has come into its brief season, and our office is downright giddy at their arrival. Cushman's, a citrus company recently bought by Harry & David, was kind enough to send in a dozen of their prettiest specimens. But you don't need to be a F&W staffer to savor these ridiculously juicy, tender, tangy tangelos, hybrids of the Dancy tangerine and Duncan grapefruit first created in Florida in 1945. The fruits are so juicy they weigh more than the average tangelo (up to half a pound), and they come shipped with bibs. They are classified by size, from small Kisses to hefty Giants, and range between $4 and $8 a pound. (If for any reason you weary of eating your HoneyBells fresh, they will also make knockout Tangelo Creamsicles.) You can order them through the Cushman's website, or by calling the HoneyBell hotline (800-776-7575). HoneyBells are also available online at Grandma Berrie's and Indian River Groves, and may well be for sale at your nearest produce store -- but only for a few more weeks.