April 3, 2017
So this is what you need to know: Darrell Corti knows more about food and wine than anybody else in America. No contest. Steve Wallace was, for many years, the wine purveyor to the stars at Wally’s. As they both turned 75 the other day, they invited a group of friends to celebrate with them at Chez Panisse.
It was spectacular.
Many people were there, including Cecila Chiang, who at 97 puts the rest of us to shame, and food critic and restaurateur, Patty Unterman. Cecilia ate everything, drank everything, and worked the room.
This is what we ate: Blinis with mountains of the most wonderful caviar;
Asparagus with a citrus-enriched hollandaise and a slice of blood orange. You forget sometimes, now that asparagus are available the year round, what in-season asparagus taste like. These tasted like – does this sound silly? – the color green. The sauce maltaise was like a gong of orange, clanging alongside. Synesthesia: eating colors.
The loveliest broth, clear as a bell, with little raviolini, filled with ricotta and greens and spangled with Parmesan. The pea shoots, floating in the broth, were extremely eloquent.
Lamb, rare, clean-tasting, cooked in the wood-burning oven, with those lovely long bones. A creamy little square of new potatoes. And a pile of the sprightliest peas, carrots, baby artichokes and fava beans you’ve ever encountered. Sorry, but gorgeous as that meat was, it was totally overshadowed by the vegetables.
A cheese plate. And because Alice could never serve a meal without a salad, she came around to plunk a little fluff of baby greens on every plate.
This was an apple galette. The tart was delicious. But that huckleberry ice cream… no words. Deep, rich… completely purple.
Music. Of course there was music….
And wine… wonderful wine.
Look at the menu.
And then imagine that ’82 Haut Brion.
March 20, 2017
This new skillet has just arrived from Blanc Creatives – and I’m in love.
Natural non-stick, beautifully balanced, and a lovely blue-black color. I appreciate the low-rise (1 inch) too.
This pan is pure pleasure to cook with.
November 19, 2016
Just back from the holiday farmers market in Great Barrington. Many fantastic finds, but my favorite is this fantastic apple cider vinegar from Carr’s Cider House; I bought an entire case, which just might last me through the year. Faintly sweet, it has a strong apple flavor; I think it’s the perfect vinegar for Roquefort salad dressing.
I’m also a big fan of their cider syrup; pour it on roasted carrots, and they really start to sing. (I also bought a whole slew of bright red carrots.) And you will never have a more perfect taste of autumn than this cider poured over pumpkin pancakes.
October 24, 2016
My brother came to town last week; he wanted me to drive him out to New Jersey to visit a chicken farm run by a friend’s son. He seemed to consider this a major treat for me.
The truth is, chickens hold very little glamour for me. Half my neighbors keep chickens (mostly for eggs), and the ones I’ve cooked have not been all that scintillating. Besides, this farm Bob wanted me to see was two hours away, in deepest New Jersey, and reached by my all time least-favorite highway. Not a pretty drive.
“But they’re raising Poulet de Bresse,” he insisted. Okay, now he had my interest; the blue footed chickens of France are pretty spectacular, and I’ve never heard of anyone in America who raised them.
Besides… it was my brother. So off we went.
Finding Voodoo Farm was not all that easy, but we lucked out; after driving around in circles, we stopped at the Blairstown feed store to ask directions. “They’re my neighbors,” said the woman who worked there, pulling up a chair to draw us a helpful little map.
Oren and Cybele Ritterband are very much back to the land people. Artists looking for something saner than city life – and a healthy way to raise their children – they’re urban people with a passion for animals. The couple do almost everything on their small farm themselves, and they’re so attached to their chickens that they applaud those who escape into the woods and hang around to enjoy a ripe old age.
Oren processes the birds himself – with a kosher blade – and then air chills them. Cybele does the butchering. They’re happy to show you where and how they do it.
The birds – both the elegant Bresses and the dowdier Rangers look plump, happy and prosperous, and the whole operation seems funky and fine. “We won’t have any Bresse til winter,” Cybele said as we were leaving, sending me off with some of her homemade pate (fantastic), jam (excellent), and an enormous frozen Freedom Ranger bird. I stuck the free range chicken in the freezer, thinking that one day I’d cook it, but not any time soon. Much as I admired what the Ritterbands were doing, I was sure the bird would be a disappointment.
Then I ran out of freezer room and put the bird in the refrigerator to thaw for a couple of days. When friends showed up unexpectedly for dinner last night, I told them, rather apologetically, that I was going to roast a chicken and not to have great expectations.
Let me cut to the chase: this was, hands down, the best bird I’ve eaten in America. And it was easy to cook. I simply removed the bird from the refrigerator, pulled off all the fat (there was a lot), and stuffed it beneath the skin on the breast, and let it come to room temperature. I put a lemon in the cavity and trussed the bird. I showered it with salt and pepper. Then I heated a cast iron skillet in a 500 degree oven for about a quarter of an hour, plunked the bird into the hot skillet and cooked it for 15 minutes before turning the heat down to 325 degrees. At that point I threw some tiny new (unpeeled) potatoes into the pan, along with some carrots, quartered onions and whole cloves of garlic.
I checked the bird’s temperature after an hour, cooked it for another half hour or so until the thigh registered 160 degrees, and let the chicken sit for half an hour.
Wow! The skin was crisp, the meat moist, extraordinarily flavorful and not the least bit gamy. If this ordinary free-range chicken was so spectacular, I can’t even imagine how that Blairstown Bresse will taste.
The beautiful bird at the top, of course, is the elegant Blairstown Bresse. The one Oren’s holding, below, is a Freedom Ranger.
October 21, 2016
I asked for Roquefort. The cheesemonger unwrapped the wheel and offered me a taste. I love this classic blue, and nodded happily as the salty bite of the cheese hit my tongue. Then, looking rather sly, he unwrapped another wheel, scooped up a small bit and held it out. “Now taste this,” he said.
The flavor was extraordinary, and unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was round, deep, rich, slightly sweet and fruity with that blue edge that hovers on aching intensity. The texture was tender as fudge.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Rogue River Blue,” he replied. “And don’t ask the price.”
Of course I had to. Choking a bit, I studied the leaf-wrapped blue-veined cheese, wondering aloud how it’s made.
“They make the cheese with summer milk then wrap it in Syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in Clear Creek Pear Brandy. Then they leave it to age for a year.”
This special Rogue River Blue is remarkable stuff. It costs a fortune, but it’s a rare treat, available in limited quantities during the fall. Try to taste it now because it’s usually gone by Christmas.
You don’t want to miss this.
(If you don’t want to order an entire wheel, you can buy it at Rubiner’s in Great Barrington, Massachusetts or Murray’s Cheese nationwide.)