Gift Guide 2017: Make Mine Mozzarella

December 16, 2017

You probably don’t need to make your own butter, and you certainly don’t require a ricotta kit; all you need for that is a lot of milk and a little bit of lemon.

Mozzarella, on the other hand, is a different matter.

Here’s the thing: although real mozzarella, the kind you buy in Italy, is made from water buffalo milk, it loses something as it travels. As the Italian cheesemaker who taught me to make mozzarella told me, “You must never, never, refrigerate this cheese.  It ruins it.”

It’s true: nothing tastes like freshly made mozzarella that has never seen the inside of a refrigerator. And if you can’t get water buffalo milk (and you can’t), your next best option is to use good cow’s milk and make your own.

That’s why I love the mozzarella kits from Roaring Brook Dairy.   Everything you need to make your own mozzarella – minus, of course, the milk. For that I’d suggest throwing in a few bottles of the best local milk you can find. Your friends will thank you.



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Gift Guide 2017: Light Up Your Life

December 15, 2017

These are corny.  I know that.  But I love them – and so does just about everyone else.  Put these little strings of lights on your holiday table and it will instantly acquire a glow.  Even the food looks better.

Your friends may laugh when they open the package.  But they’ll use them.  That’s a promise.



Gift Guide 2017: The Watched Pot

December 14, 2017

You don’t need this beautiful glass pot.  But don’t you want it? I certainly do. And I can think of at least a dozen friends who would like it as much as I do.

Made of industrial glass and designed by architect Massimo Castagna, the pots are made by hand; only ten are made each day. (Ergo, they aren’t cheap.)

The only place in the States that seems to sell it is the Museum of Modern Art, and at the moment it’s on back order.  But if you want it fast, you can order it from Mohd, in Italy, here.


My Dinner at Hwa Yuan

December 14, 2017

A friend who grew up in Chinatown told me he’d had the best Chinese food he could remember at the new Hwa Yuan Szechuan. “Their moo shoo pork was so deliciously delicate,” he said, “and I HATE moo shoo pork.”

How could I not go?

Let’s cut to the chase: the place is enormous, spread across three floors, expensively (and oddly) decorated with a menu that, at first glance, seems remarkably silly.  When was the last time you felt like ordering Caesar Salad in a Chinese restaurant?  What on earth are they doing with a raw bar?  Cheesecake: really?

Which is to say, I took one look at the menu and thought my friend might have lost it.

Hwa Yuan was, apparently, very famous in the seventies and eighties; the restaurant, owned by Shorty Tang, was one of the earliest purveyors of Sichuan food and pretty much made a market in cold sesame noodles. (I was in California in those years, so I missed Mr. Tang’s moment of fame.)

Now Shorty’s son, Chen Lien Tang, has decided to reopen the restaurant right next door to where the original once stood.  And he has grand ambitions.

Skipping past the salad, the sole carpaccio, the shrimp cocktail and raw uni, we began by ordering steamed short ribs in sticky rice.  They were superb! Hiding beneath the beautifully spiced meat is an entire layer of squash.  We began to think my friend might not be crazy.

Then the chef sent out these little spicy Sichuan dumplings, and they were great too, the noodles thin, the sauce with a gentle but insistent kick.

Whole fish with hot bean sauce was carefully cooked, the fish snatched from the steamer at the exact right moment, rendering the flesh smooth, silky, seductive.  Delicious as the fish was, I’d order it just for the pleasure of that sauce…

But the most impressive dishes might have been the most subtle, like this baby bok choy cooked in “superior broth.”  It was, indeed, superior.

And this dish, called “Tang’s Amazing Tofu with Meat” doesn’t look like much, but it offered a small surprise with each bite. You biet into a floating pillow of velvety tofu, and then, suddenly, a flash of black bean, and a hint of chili go zipping through the blandness.  The squeak of scallion and tiny batons of pork are threaded through the dish, contrast to all that softness. I literally couldn’t stop eating.

Of course we had to order a dish of the hated moo shoo.  And just as promised – it was a delight.

I want to go back to try the Peking Duck (it has its own dedicated oven), the orange beef, the kung pao chicken which Mr. Tang promises is done simply, with just chiles and garlic.


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Gift Guide 2017: The Very Best Bird

December 13, 2017

I will never forget my first taste of grouse.  It was in London, and the bird had been hung for a long time (in Merry Olde Englande they believed in hanging birds until they literally fell from their necks), and then roasted in a wood oven. The flavor was unlike any bird I’d ever eaten: funky and filled with flavor, it was the blue cheese of birds.  I tore it apart with my fingers – and the scent lingered for hours.

Red Grouse, which make the best eating, live only in Scotland and don’t thrive in captivity.  I’ve never seen grouse served in an American restaurant, but if you have someone on your list with a taste for game, you can order a few wild grouse from D’Artagnan.   (If you’re so inclined, you can also order a suckling pig from the estimable purveyor of exotic meat.)  Hunting season ended a few days ago, so right now the birds arrive frozen.  And you have to be careful of shot: these birds are wild, not farmed, so it’s best to beware.

Want to know a bit more?   This article is well worth reading.