December 13, 2013
Bagels. Everyone knows that New York bagels are no longer what they used to be. Victims of inflation, they’ve gotten bigger, softer, sweeter over time. While you can occasionally find a decent New York bagel (I appreciate the mini bagels at Russ and Daughters), most of them are pretty sad.
Montreal bagels, on the other hand, cleave to tradition. Their own tradition. Originally brought to Canada by Polish immigrants, they’re bagels of a different sort. Smaller and sweeter than New York bagels, they’re always rolled by hand, boiled in a honey-sweetened water bath and then, more importantly, baked in a wood-fired oven which gives them their character and unusual appearance. The bagels lack uniformity; each one is individual. Some are larger, some darker – but all are delicious.
The two classic Montreal bagel bakeries each have their fans (including an impressive roster of celebrities). Fairmount is the older of the two (it opened in 1919), but it doesn’t mail-order its bagels. St. Viatur, opened by Myer Lewkowicz, a Buchenwald survivor, in 1957 does. The last day to order for Christmas is December 17th, so you still have a little time.
Bagels are shipped in 4 or 6 dozen units, but you might as well go large since shipping charges are the same. (4 dozen bagels are $30; 6 dozen bagels are $45. Shipping charges are $29.) The bagels keep well – a couple of months in the freezer - and any bagel fan would be thrilled with this gift. It's even worth negotiating the extremely annoying web site; perseverance pays off.
December 12, 2013
Even if your friends live near a coast, if they don't live in a large urban city they very likely lack access to first-rate seafood. That's where Browne Trading Company comes in. Rod Mitchell has been supplying sustainably-sourced seafood to big deal chefs like Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud for many years. But he also mail-orders his wonderful products to ordinary people. They run the gamut from wild and farmed fish and shellfish to smoked fish and caviars. Order before 2 p.m., and you can have it for dinner tomorrow.
What to send? Any committed cook would be happy to have one of the Turbots (pictured above). Highly prized in europe, this mild, firm-fleshed fish is easy to cook but hard to find on this side of the Atlantic. (You might also consider a pair of Dover Soles.)
Best of all, perhaps, this time of year are Nantucket Bay Scallops.
They're small. They're sweet. They're the easiest seafood you'll ever cook. And they're in season now – for a very short while. I can't imagine anybody being anything but jubilant to find a package from Browne Trading Company landing at their door.
December 11, 2013
A Different Kind of Cookbook
It's not just that these sweet little books each tackle a different ingredient. And it's not just that each was written by a really good cook – and that the recipes are wonderful. Or that they're beautifully printed and hand bound. It's also that Shortstack Editions represents an entirely new idea in publishing.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, they've got an ambitious publishing schedule; the first six volumes were published this year, with plans for another six next year. The writers invest by creating the books, and are paid each time a volume is sold.
Falling somewhere between a book, a pamphlet and a magazine, the $12 Short Stack editions make very nice stocking-stuffers. Especially if you know someone who's obsessed with one of the ingredients. But a subscription to next year's as yet unpublished editions would make an impressive present for a committed cook: all six volumes for $75. It's like those old-fashioned surprise balls: you don't know what you'll get, but you do know that it will be good.
December 10, 2013
Remember when chefs used to wear toques? That went out sometime in the 80s, when open kitchens became the rage and chefs who wanted to look hip began sporting baseball caps instead.
But for a long time after that chefs continued to wear the traditional black and white chefs pants. So dull! Now that too is starting to change: today's trendiest chefs wander around their kitchens in bluejeans.
That gave chef Chris Cosentino, of San Francisco’s Incanto, an idea: why not design a pair of jeans specifically for chefs? The result is Betabrand’s Chef Jeans, which are designed to be cool in the kitchen. The crotch is vented, the fit is relaxed, and there are special pockets for a cell phone and a sharpie (you never know when some fan will demand an autograph).
The pants have many other interesting details like apron lining on the pockets and bone buttons. Available only since November, they’re the latest thing.
Don’t feel like spending $118 on your friend? Then maybe you’d like to invest in these meat feet socks.
A three-pack sampler is $33, and they even come with a replacement guarantee should you lose one. The socks are currently sold out, but they’re so adorable they might just be worth waiting for.
December 9, 2013
My first attempts at recycling – back in Berkeley in the 70s – were so annoying that it was a relief to move to Los Angeles and give the whole thing up. We had so many receptacles in the kitchen: brown glass, green glass, clear glass, bi-metals, aluminum, tin- that there was barely room to cook. But the compost bucket was the worst; a big odiferous mess.
Looking back, I can’t believe how easy recycling has become. Composting, on the other hand, continues to be problematic for city people. That’s why I was so excited when I found the sleekly designed Urban Composter Bucket.
You can throw any organic material into this neat little bucket – even leftover meat and fish – and the bucket immediately begins the composting process. Within a matter of days you have a nutrient rich fertilizer. The company's trick is the composting spray, which uses "effective microbes" to break down food quickly (like the Japanese version, Bokashi, but without the messy granular mixture you use to jumpstart the process.) The tap allows you to drain off your organic fertilizer, dilute, and use it immediately, while the tightly sealed top makes the whole thing virtually odorless.
Everybody's looking for ways to help save the environment. This is one small step; at $75 it makes a very practical present.