The Uncomfortable Truth about Cooking

There is something about cooking none of us want to acknowledge. All we really do when we slice and dice, simmer or brown, even marinate is, essentially, speed up decay. Why do we do this?

Because decay tastes good.

Some theories for our fifth and arguably yummiest taste, umami, (which recently joined the established ranks of sweet, salt, sour and bitter) is that it is simply the taste of decay. Of course it can also be artificially produced – which is MSG.

For the last several weeks, we have been saving bones, rinds and vegetable trimmings, in order to harness their decay into an umami rich broth. They have been gathering in our freezer into a kind of compost pile, if you will, that instead of enriching our soil (we have none) will soon be enriching our meals.

There are lots of rules for making broth. You don’t really need any of them. Just throw it all in a pot and simmer.

Here’s the most recent concoction – everything but the celery and parsley was found in a greenmarket:

Unfussy Broth

One T-bone, meat previously devoured
Bones from a whole chicken
Turkey back bone
Cheese rinds
Celery tops
Onions, whole, including rough outer skins
Carrots, unpeeled, chopped into quarters
Nuded rosemary twigs
Garlic cloves
Parsley, stems and all

Cover in water and simmer anywhere from 2-18 hours, the longer the better. Chill to let fat coagulate at top. Skim and drain broth. Use, or freeze in user-friendly sizes. (I am using ice cube trays and muffin tins.)


Root Vegetable Overload

I don’t know what happened. It couldn't have been my fault. I was just standing outside, the sun was muted by cold fog, and in need of steadying, comfort, I reached out for something hard and sturdy. Sure enough it was a rutabaga – a nice big white and purple one. (The purple side is the part that saw the sun growing up.) And then, before I knew what was happening, teenage parsnips, celery roots and all kinds of knobby, occasionally hairy, root vegetables were jumping into my bag, giggling over how they would soon begin tormenting me.

And they did. Waking me up in the middle of the night with: “You are responsible for us now. How will we spend our last days!?!”

I poured over recipes for each one – apparently each goes well with potatoes – but potatoes I know. Potatoes I left at the stand for another week. Procrastinating, I tried to ignore the pounds of root veggies while I focused on those with a shorter fridge-life. But with each salad and sauté, the roots made their existence known. “Don’t you dare take our patience for granted,” they hissed.

Finally, I gave in. With three hours of undivided attention, I coaxed them all into this savory pie adapted (read, simplified) from a Bon Appetit recipe. Over the last few days, we have eaten this as dinner and lunch entrées, as well as a side dish and I have to say it gets better with age. Highly recommend getting the veggies together at least a day in advance to let the flavors meld.

Savory Winter Pie
Serves 4 as an entrée, 6-8 as a side dish

Amounts are flexible and forgiving. Basically you just want 5-6 cups chopped root vegetables of any variety. Here’s what I did this time around:

2 carrots
2 small celery roots (celeriac)
1 large rutabaga
2 small parsnips
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, broken into half-inch pieces
4 cups broth

1 Tbs butter
1.5 cups chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbs dried rosemary, minced
¼ cup all purpose flour (I use a gluten-free flour as I am a glu-tard.*)
2 Tbs milk or cream
2 Tbs brandy
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
ground cayenne and black pepper to taste

1 cup plus 2 Tbs all purpose flour
½ Tbs baking powder
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
½ tsp salt
3 Tbs chilled butter
¾ cup chilled buttermilk

Peel and chop root vegetables. Add to boiling broth with porcinis. Add water to cover. Simmer until veggies are just tender, about 6 min. Drain veggies and reserve the broth.

In large pot, melt butter. Add and sauté onions. Ditto with garlic and rosemary. Mix in flour. Stir one minute before adding reserved broth, milk and brandy. Bring to a boil and reduce to about 2 cups, whisking often (about 7 min.) Add vegetables, parsley and ground peppers.

Prepare pie pan by greasing with butter and an optional sprinkling of breadcrumbs. Add filling. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until bubbling. Or chill 1-2 days and then bake.

While filling is baking, make mix biscuit batter. Combine all dry ingredients. Slice in butter and crumble through your hands until flour is consistency of cornmeal. Gradually mix in buttermilk.

Spoon batter in mounds over hot filling. Bake another 45 minutes, until test skewer or toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10-15 minutes. Serve.

*a glu-tard is restaurant-speak for someone with celiac


Turkey Talk

I recently learned from Ms. Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that turkeys have been bred to be so stupid they don’t even know how to mate.

Really. They would die out in one generation if we stopped artificially inseminating them. Imagine how much work that must be for the turkey farmer. Acting like some bee going flower to flower – although it is not quite so pretty. He or she must force the turkey tom to donate sperm (do you really need a visual?) and then insert it into the tom-ettes. For every new batch of babies.

Leaving alone the deformities and physical problems (such as difficulty walking) of being bred to have as big a breast as possible, the fact that they can’t even have - or want - sex seems to me a vital blow. On a scale from 1-10, ten being full of life and one being dead, I give them a three. Conventional turkeys are the equivalent of Frankenstein.

Fortunately, not all turkeys are like this. Just 99.99 percent of those Americans eat.

The .01 percent is America’s heritage turkeys, bred locally for hundreds of years with emphasis on flavor, beauty and meat yield, according to the Heritage Turkey Foundation. Heritage turkeys withstood the trials of natural selection, sexual selection AND human selection. Conventional turkeys – of which there is only one type and that is Broad-breasted White (sometimes called Nicholas) – have only been vetted by the latter.

When it comes to choosing the best, I agree with Obama: the more vetting the better.

Check out some of the names of heritage turkeys: Bourbon Red, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, Royal Palm and White Midget. I feel like I’ve entered an international crime novel. Fitting, since most of these are in danger of being snuffed out. The only way to save them, paradoxically, is to eat them.

For a fascinating but quick read on the history of the turkey, go here.

While I like to believe that all the best things in the world are available at the farmers’ market, I was disappointed to learn that Di Paola’s Turkey farm, the biggest greenmarket turkey provider in NYC, raises predominantly conventional turkeys. These are yummy birds and I like that they are raised in more pleasant conditions than most mass-produced turkeys. (The life experience of any creature influences its flavor; science will back me up on that. More on that later.)

So, I will keep buying from Di Paola, but each time I will ask about heritage birds. Maybe if they get asked enough, they will raise some and give up that whole artificial insemination routine.

[Update/Correction? I haven't been able to verify this, but over the summer a representative of DiPaola's told me that while they do raise conventional birds, their turkeys can and do mate by themselves.]

Di Paola’s sausage is delicious, and very lean – never more than 4% fat content. But here is what I did with a more challenging purchase: a large turkey back on special for $1.99.

Turkey Stew

Serves 3

1 turkey back
1 cup celery root, cubed
2 yellow onions, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic (larger amount if using local garlic), finely sliced
2 small carrots, chopped
5 stalks celery, chopped
2 Tbs rosemary, finally chopped
1/4 tsp ground tumeric (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cayenne (optional)
1 cup whey (optional)
1/4 cup milk

Place turkey back in Dutch oven or other large pot with lid. Fill with water until covered. Salt water and bring to simmer (small bubbles). Add all vegetables and spices. Continue to simmer for about one hour.

Remove turkey back and let cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, leave lid off simmering stock and allow liquid to reduce. Strip meat and set aside. (Reserve bones for future use.)

Add whey and milk (any kind other than soy) to simmering pot. If you want a smooth soup, puree at this point. Or leave alone for a chunky stew. Bring to a boil briefly. Add back turkey meat. Serve with toasted bread.


Locations and Schedules

To find out when and where NY markets sprout into existence, go here:


If you don't live near the Big Apple, move. Just kidding. Go here:



Pea Shoots for the Weary


My growing hunger for spring caused me to exclaim with glee on Saturday at the sight of pea shoots. “How do you have pea shoots!?!” I asked, my face curling with smiles. “Greenhouse,” smiled back the women representing Evolutionary Organics (New Paltz, NY). A quarter pound – enough to make two entrée-size salads – was quickly climbing into a bag. Their crisp stems, clover tops and mild, lemon-and-white-pepper aftertaste created a springtime fantasy for dinner last night.

Tangy Pea Shoot Salad with Crispy Onion

Serves two as entrees, five as a sides or appetizers

¼ lb pea shoots
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin circles
6-8 oz pulled roasted chicken or walnuts
3.5 Tbs white wine vinegar
1 Tbs olive oil
black pepper

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly spray cookie sheet with oil and spread onion slices flat across sheet. When oven is very hot, put in the onions. (This will make them crisp, instead of just softening them.) After five minutes, reduce heat to 225 degrees. Let onions bake for 40 minutes, or until crispy.

Meanwhile, coat pulled chicken in 1Tbs vinegar and let rest. Or toast walnuts on another cookie sheet, leaving the oven at 225, but watching and stirring frequently and removing when you can smell “nuttiness” – about 15 min.

Mix rest of vinegar and oil with salt and pepper to taste. Combine all ingredients. Toss.

Rhubarb in the dead of winter


I am hungry for spring. The weather has been moody, teasing us with wafts of pleasantries only to fall gloomy-skied once again. I have to wonder what Miss Weather’s fickleness is doing to local farmers’ own moods.

I just polished off a bowl of thawed rhubarb sauce with yogurt. Yes, I am eating year-old rhubarb for breakfast – that’s how hungry for I am for the first signs of spring.

Rhubarb is a fraud of a fruit. It is more a celery stalk dressed up in scarlet. She uses her tartness to find her way into pies, sauces and jams but I would never want to encounter her, on some long hungry night, when she is in her raw state.

The rhubarb sauce, sold frozen by Wilklow Orchards (Highland, NY), melts into a watery-applesauce consistency. It’s too tart to be eaten straight from the tub but I appreciate the farm abstaining from the arrogance of knowing how much sugar to add. I like to do it myself, thank you. And with all the different sweetening preferences out there – sugar, molasses, honey, fructose, date syrup, aspartame, what-have-you – it is rather wise of them to sell it as is.

Navigating Grand Army Plaza


Just back from Prospect Park’s Saturday Farmers’ Market. I’ll be writing about my finds over the next couple weeks, so today, after taste-testing everything I could, I’ll tell you what I did not buy.

Starting west of Grand Army Plaza:

Cheese: Skip the blended goat cheese: It tastes as bad as it looks.

Apples: The Honey Crisp are still hanging in there this week too but most others – Gala, Mutsu, Idared – are starting to lose flavor (although Idareds are still good for baking).

Wine: Skip Tickle Hill Farms.
  • Their “Grapeful” blend is appropriately named – and awful. It reminded me of grape juice concentrate from childhood and, unfortunately, the memory included pre-emptive scoldings over potential stains and thin PB&Js with stale crusts.
  • The “Vincent” was drier and brought up no memories. It was simply undrinkable.
If you ignore me and try Tickle Hill anyway, your palette will likely be cursing your Doubting-Thomas self at this point in your visit. Instead of wallowing in regret, walk up to the stands for Wilklow Orchards (back the way you came) or Di Paola Turkey Farm (a couple steps past Tickle Hill’s) and immediately sample whatever they happen to be grilling. Nothing like turkey sausage or smoked ham to restore your tongue’s faith in you.

Chickens: Not sure this is the best time of year for chickens. I have had two local chickens this season and both have bordered on the chewy, gamey side. Still, I like buying local, have no hope in becoming a vegetarian and can only eat so much pork and cow. So I hope this becomes a tasty option in the future. Looking forward to spring!

Pickles: I love pickles. And Rick’s Picks pickle stand has lots of tempting varieties. A couple weeks ago, I shelled out for a jar of their Heat Seekers, which are hot and sweet in all the right places. So why not snatch another type to try? Six-to-nine dollars for pickles gives me sticker shock. But if anyone has a favorite type of Ricks Picks, which you think is worth the dough, please share.

Wine: After all your hard tasting, reward yourself by visiting whatever vineyard stand is set up at the east side of the market. It rotates weekly through local vineyards and while the wine can be a bit streaky, the stand, unlike Tickle Hill’s, is usually worth five minutes.


As an avid vino gulper, I find myself wondering if pasture-fed milk has terroir? If the grass the cow eats grows on irrigated or parched, fertile or gravelly, soil, does it change the flavor of the milk? Does the milk from a cow in a warm climate differ from a cow in bitter temps? (No jokes about ice cream, please.)

Similarly, is there an art to cow milking? If a farmer is a late riser do you get different flavors? Do skimming process affect the flavor? How about bottle type?

To begin answering these questions, I will begin a great (er, modest) Milk Off next week. Milk and yogurt from different farms, eating different grasses will face off in my mouth. I can’t wait.


Several months ago, after one my first shopping trips to the farmer’s market, a test bite of a carrot filled me with such elation I actually pranced (really, I pranced) it over to my husband, finding it fully worthy of interrupting his book.

Today the carrots are much more modest, sold in bags of knobby broken pieces, leftovers from earlier in the season. They aren’t as sweet as they were this fall, but they are still better than anything I’ve tasted from a store. Don’t be put off by the great many carrots sold in a single bag. They keep well and are welcome additions to a number of dishes. However, if you are as terrified of waste as I am, here’s a yummy way to use lots of carrots in one go. Freeze the leftovers (if there are any.)

Silky Carrot Soup

1 lb carrots, peeled and chopped
½ large butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow onion
2 Tbs peanut oil
4-6 cups unsalted chicken broth
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
salt to taste

In large pot, sauté onions in peanut oil until soft. Add 4 cups of broth, spices and carrots. Boil for twenty minutes with cover on. Add squash. Boil another 20 minutes with cover on. Add additional broth as needed. When everything is mushy, puree. Serve right away or simmer until you are ready to eat.

(I wanted to highlight the carrots’ flavor in this, but you can easily double the spice amounts if you are looking for a nice spicy Indian soup.)


It’s January. What’s with all the green at the farmers’ market? I bought two armfuls of kale, supposedly from New Jersey. Curious as I was about how these curly leaves were going to taste, I also wondered how they even existed. The root vegetables make sense to me; they stay cozy underground. But leafy greens?

In my cynical (and ignorant) mind, I conjured scenarios of being duped. Perhaps that nice farmhand, rounding my bill down to the nearest dollar, is actually an experienced swindler who bought the bulk of his goods at the nearest KeyMart and, by adding the admittedly-lovely if inauthentic farmer-market experience, sold them at an up-charge? Or, I thought to myself, trying to remain kind, perhaps he has a greenhouse?

However, having never eaten kale before (to my knowledge), this was the most pressing mystery to be solved. Not long after arriving home, my taste buds were relieved to peppery, bitterness with a forgiving texture (see recipes below). Next, I found the answer to my worries over its existential nature.

Kale likes snow.

It’s like the polar bear of leafy greens. The cold weather actually sweetens its temperament and helps bring out its dark goodness. (On that note, avoid yellow leaves.)

I now have new respect for flora. I can’t exist for more than a few hours in these temperatures, let alone live out there. And I am at peace with again with Phillips’s Saturday stand at the tip of Prospect Park.

The simplest way to experience kale magic is to make:

Kale Chips
These turn out beautifully crispy and can quickly (and healthfully) sub in for potato chips.

Cut leaves, sans thick stems into rough two bite pieces.
Dress lightly with salted oil (and vinegar if you like)
Roast at 350 degrees until crispy – about 20 minutes.

But in honor of Chinese New Year, here’s what I did with the kale last night:

Dragon Stir Fry: Kale and Chicken

Serves two:

2 Tbs peanut oil
4 garlic cloves (2 if using store bought instead of farm bought)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 chicken filet, thawed/soaked in orange juice and a couple dashes of fish sauce
4 oz (large handful) of peanuts
1 red bell pepper, chopped
6 cups curly kale, stem bottoms removed, cut into two-bite pieces (will shrink)
~4 Tbs duck sauce (that orange sweet sauce that is always almost-thrown out after ordering Chinese food)
soy sauce

Saute garlic and onion in hot oil. Cut chicken into long narrow strips. Brown chicken in pan w/ garlic and then remove and set aside. Throw a large handful of peanuts in the bowl with it to keep it company.

Pour marinade into a small pot. Add a dash soy sauce and duck sauce (and some crushed red pepper) to taste. Boil like crazy. You are trying to reduce it to nice syrupy sauce.

Put bell pepper in pan with garlic and onion. Saute until just getting tender. Add kale. Saute and then pour hot juice syrup over the greens. Add chicken and peanuts. Stir to coat and raise temperature.

Serve with steamed rice.


If you haven’t worked with (or eaten) farmer’s market beef, stop reading, get up and go get yourself some. I’ll wait until you get back.

What’s the hurry? You’ve never had beef before. And is that anyway to live?

Okay, sure you’ve had steak and burgers that were plenty scrumptious but they did not come from a true cow. Or at least not a cow that felt like a cow.

To illustrate, let’s take you – a reasonably healthy individual who exercises when possible and likes good fresh food. Let’s force-feed you Cheetos, Pringles, Twinkies and some human jerky sticks until you feel very ill, until your immune system shuts down and your body begins to revolt. Now, instead of letting you go for a walk and find a salad, we fence you in, pump you full of antibiotics and make you to stand in your own shit, while your head is buried in cheese puffs.

At this point, I have to ask, do you feel like a human?

No, you’ve become a flesh manufacturer. Albeit a very sick one.

This is the life of most American cows. The resulting beef is as unnatural as trans fat slathered Styrofoam.

Real meat is raised not produced. So unless you have had grass-fed beef, you haven’t had beef. It’s more than the difference between a Twinkie and a homemade cupcake (be honest, which one feeds your soul?) but that’s part of it. The benefits of eating Real food reverberate in many directions – too many to get into here. (But I highly recommend Pollan’s books on this subject.)

Enough preaching: This site is for the more carnal senses.

Grass fed beef, first of all, looks different than fake beef. When raw, it is a dark magenta color – much darker than the rose color you find in the supermarket. And the texture between your fingers is supple, almost silky. The fat peels off easily – but do not throw this away. It is where all the yummy Omega 3s are and is my favorite way to grease a sauté pan.

(I think eating the fat of an animal is important, with the caveat that the animal must be healthy. In any properly functioning body, the balance of hormones and other nutrients is divided between muscles and fat tissue. If you only eat one or the other, you could be disrupting this balance in your own body. I am not a doctor; this is simply my own take on the most recent scientific literature…)

Two things to note when planning a recipe with Real beef:

1) The flavor is so luscious, you will savor it longer and therefore be deeply satisfied by a smaller portion.

2) There is less fat over all in the real cow (i.e. the grazing cow) than in the beef-manufacturing machine (i.e. the sick, shit-standing, fake-food-gorging cow). Reduce cooking time in standard recipes by one-third (muscle temp rises faster than fat) and keep the oven or stove temp slightly lower than you usually would.

Drunken Cow with Mushrooms
- I owe the idea to combining whisky and soy sauce to a Brooklyn-based volunteer for Arcadian Pastures (Sloansville, NY).

Serves 2

Main Ingredients

½- ¾ lb grass-fed beef, preferably sirloin but other cuts will do nicely too
½ lb shitake or oyster mushrooms, sliced in half if large
¾ cup paper-thin slices of daikon (Japanese radish)


¾ cup whiskey
¼ cup soy sauce
1 Tbs Campari (optional)
1 Tbs molasses
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
splash of juice, whatever you have in your fridge

Mix marinade ingredients and, if necessary, let beef defrost in it. Separate (but save!) fat. Cut beef into mouth-manageable strips and place back in refrigerated marinade for at least 40 minutes and up to 9 hours, the longer the better.

Twenty minutes before ready to eat, take fat out of marinade and let melt in large skillet until pan is well greased. Remove. Add mushrooms and then daikon, sautéing until soft.

Meanwhile, drain most of the marinade into small pot. Boil to reduce. You want about a quarter cup.

Add beef to mushroom mixture. Sauté until mostly brown, med-rare. Add reduced marinade. Serve.

(To use up the rest of the daikon, I diced it into long slices – with the critical help of a mandolin – and tossed with rice vinegar. A simple side dish to accompany the complexity above).


While the Crispin Mutsu apples have gone a bit mealy by now, their sound-alike cousin, HoneyCrisp are just hitting their stride.

At the beginning of the season, they were crisp, no doubt, but rather watery in flavor. Now they have a sweet quality… Some might call it ‘honey-like’ and point to the name, but to my palette it tastes overwhelmingly of roses.

If you haven’t tried this variety, when I say ‘crisp’, it is not the hard crunch of a Granny Smith or the snap of a Macintosh. There is an airy quality to the HoneyCrisp apple’s texture; the crisp of a dry winter day, rather than the dewy teasing of blue-skyed autumn. The apple’s particularly thin skin gives way to flesh that is of consistent crispness from top to bottom, from inside out. If I had a microscope, I might do a comparison, hypothesizing that HoneyCrisp slices are more porous than other apples.

Eat au natural. Or with a little salt. Yes, salt. They are that sweet.