Reader Mail: Knives, Books, Spotted Pig Prices, Food Allergies, and A Visit From San Francisco

July 31, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

We’ve got lots of questions from readers this week, so let’s get started.

The first is a series of five questions from Vickie.

Hi Adam! AG is a real inspiration for me–I’ve tried a number of your recommended recipes. I have some questions for you, and I hope to hear back from you about them!

1. When you skim fat or scum from what you’re cooking, where do you put it? Is it OK to throw fat down the drain if you have a food disposal?

Hi Vickie! Scum? You throw it away. Put it in the trash; if you want to put it down the drain, it’s fine, unless you own your house in which case I suppose a large build-up of fat over the years will start to clog your drain. This is a bigger issue when you deep fry: it’s advisable not to pour huge amounts of fat (like oil) down your drain. But scum? Scum should be fine down the drain.

Incidentally, if you’re making chicken stock and you put the stock in the refrigerator overnight, the fat will all rise to the top. This is not scum: this is chicken fat, also called schmaltz. According to Sarah Moulton (whose new show I watched tonight) you can freeze that fat in a freezer bag and use it later on to make matzoh balls or chopped liver. Yum!

2. What vegetable dish would you recommend to pair with Prune’s milk-braised pork dish?

As you can see here, I once made this dish. First I served a salad–probably a salad of summer tomatoes, basil, red onion and feta; if it was winter, maybe a salad of fennel with Parmesan cheese–but, here in my home, that counts as a side too. You serve the salad, then you serve the pork, then you serve dessert. The pork is such an event–that milky sauce is so creamy–you really don’t need a vegetable, especially nothing cooked in oil or butter. If you must serve a vegetable side, potatoes? Nah. That’s gross. No side!

3. I currently have the 5.? Le Crueset french oven, and I think I need the next larger one. Or is there another LC item that would be a better investment?

This question is difficult to answer without more information. Are you just itching to buy a new Le Crueset product or are you unhappy with the size of your french oven? (Is it a French oven or a Dutch oven? I have a Dutch oven, not sure what a French oven is–I assume it’s the same?) I love my Le Crueset Dutch Oven; I’d say it’s one of my essential kitchen tools—I use it for stews, for browning, for popcorn, for storage. It’s fantastic. So if yours isn’t big enough, get a bigger one. It should be big enough to hold a pork loin (like the one I browned in mine tonight); so maybe 12 inches across? That’s a good size, methinks.

4. I need to get a good all-around knife–but not willing to spend more than $30 on it. What would you recommend? Should I get a sharpening stick with that? (Sorry, no idea what it’s called.)

That’s a good question. I am not a knife expert and even at this late stage, I’m still quite insecure about my knives. I love my ceramic knife, but that was about $90 and it’s not all-purpose. My advice: go to your favorite kitchen store–Williams Sonoma is good, if you’re in New York you must go to Korin–and tell the salesperson what you’re looking for and how much you’re looking to spend. Or, check out this article by Mark Bittman on how to equip your kitchen; he says, “Go into any restaurant kitchen and you will see most of the cooks using this same plastic-handle Dexter-Russell tool. (Go to the wrong store and you’ll spend $20 or even $30 on the same knife.)”

I’m thinking of starting to buy more cookbooks. Which 10 in your collection do you think are absolutely indispensable? Consider that I do like to cook, but not too fancy or too into professional techniques, and as my husband and I are getting older, we probably need to eat healthier, though would still like to indulge in fat once in a while.

Wow, you’re a tough customer Miss Vickie. But, ok, off the top of my head, my indispensable top 10:

1. Any of the Barefoot Contessa books; they’re foolproof and the recipes always produce extraordinary results;

2. Chez Panisse Cookbook; (especially for the roast chicken)

3. Zuni Cafe Cookbook, not because I actually use it but because if you’re a food blogger or a food writer, you have to put Zuni Cafe on your list or people won’t respect you.

4. Sunday Suppers at Lucques. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT. I cooked from it tonight and DAZZLED a famous writer. It’s the best special occasion cooking book on the market (not good for everyday meals);

5. Saveur Cooks Authentic French

6. “Cooking For Mr. Latte.” This is Amanda Hesser’s memoir, and though the stories are fun, the recipes are stellar. So many have become fixtures for me: especially the almond cake. I also made that almond cake tonight and that writer was DAZZLED.

7. I like Mario Batali’s “Molto Italiano.” It’s his most complete book, not too intimidating, lots of great ideas.

8. Martha Stewart’s Baking Book is another foolproof, always wows’em book.

9. The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, not to cook from, just to have.

10. ALL ABOUT BRAISING… i can’t believe i almost forgot one of my TOP 3 all time favorites. By Molly Stevens. Essential winter cooking.

* * * * * * * *

Our next e-mail is from reader Julie, who has a story to tell.

Hi Adam,

Last week I dined at the Spotted Pig late Friday night. I really

wanted a salad with my meal and love Boston bibb lettuce (or bibb

lettuce in general), but the price of the bibb lettuce salad was 14

dollars!!! When the waiter came to take our order I asked him what was

it about the salad that made it so expensive. He was taken aback a

bit. He said, “Well, we get our greens fresh from the local

Greenmarket.” He also mumbled some other stuff but this was most of

what I heard. So I said, “Well, I shop at the Greenmarket too, and I’m

not familiar with greens so expensive.”This completely baffled him…I

think my friend said the look on his face was priceless!

Adam, I wasn’t trying to be rude to the guy, I honestly was thinking

perhaps the olive oil or whatever they used to make the mustard

dressing it came with may have been pricey, and I just wanted to know

what was so special that warranted the price. Bibb lettuce isn’t an

expensive lettuce and it did taste good (yes I ordered it and it was

very good though still not worth 14 dollars).

Are we expected to pay more for dining local and is this wonderful

trend backfiring on us? Or is the Spotted Pig getting ahead of itself

and charging these prices because they know they can get away with it?

Or perhaps they put some real gold flakes in the mustard?

Thanks Adam! It would be great to know what you think.

Julie

Dear Julie,

I too dined at the Spotted Pig recently and found their prices a little too high. For example, I had the halibut and that cost $32. $32! It was just a piece of fish on a plate with lentils and tomatoes.

However, the more I think about it, the fish was expertly prepared, perfectly seasoned, moist through and through and zippy with a squeeze of lemon. So, my hunch is part of the price is the pedigree of the chef; April Bloomfield worked at The River Cafe in London, one the world’s best restaurants, and to have her bring her skill and knowledge to your plate is a privilege worth the extra price–the same way you pay more for a meal cooked by Jean-Georges, Daniel Boulud, or any other celebrated chef.

Secondly, you’re paying for the scene. The Spotted Pig has become something of a club, an insidery chef’s club where the dark lighting, the uncomfortable stools and the occasionally callous attitude contribute to a feeling of exclusivity. At least that’s my take. For a gastropub to charge $32 for fish or $14 for Bibb lettuce they have to know that people will pay that for SOME reason, and the reason, I suppose, is that people want to belong. That’s the cynical logic. The less cynical logic is that the ingredients are so good and the cooking is so good that it’s worth it.

* * * * * * *

Reader Jessie writes:

Hey Adam -

I’m a frequent enjoyer of your blog, since i often find your tastes in

both restaurants and home cooking runs similar to mine. I live in San

Francisco (and love the San Francisco restaurant and food culture) but

will be in Manhattan for the last week of this month for work. While

there, I want to really explore and have fun in the NY dining scene,

something I really haven’t had the chance to experience before.

So, i turn to you, for a few restaurant recommendations. I’d like to

find a few places that provide an interesting contrast to the San

Francisco & California dining scene, without breaking the bank. So

far, on my list of places to visit:

Blue Ribbon

Momofuku Ssam

Brooklyn Brewery (I’m an avid homebrewer, and Brooklyn brewery is

doing some really exciting stuff with beer and food pairings)

Any NY bagel (i’m a jew. i know)

Where else should i try to have make onto my list?

thanks!

- Jesse

Hi Jesse, I fully support your list so far–especially Ssam Bar. To your list, I’d add: Prune, just because it’s so lovable and cozy and unique and the food is just so good; Cafe Sabarsky, not for lunch, just for pastries and coffee after going to a museum–it’s in the old Estee Lauder mansion and it’s one of the best old world New York spaces in the city (plus the pastries are dynamite–get the Linzertorte); Katz’s Deli is a must; while you’re on that block, check out Yonah Shimmel’s for knishes and Russ and Daughter’s for smoked fish. And let’s not forget pizza: you must have New York pizza. I fully support a visit to Una Pizza Napoletana (it’s in Manhattan), Franny’s (which is two blocks from me in Brooklyn–you may see me walking down the street!), or Di Fara which would be a trek but a trek well worth it. Finally, for your bagel, I’m a lover of Murray’s on 13th and 6th Ave. I’m sure there are better bagels in the city, but the whole experience–the gruff countermen, the Tropicana OJ, the containers filled with prepped whitefish salad and nova spread–it’s the best. And if your bagel is hot, it’s heaven.

* * * * * * * *

Finally, we have an e-mail from Denise:

Hi Adam,

I was diagnosed with allergies to various types of food almost two years ago, the scariest reactions being to shellfish/seafood and wheat. I rarely eat out and when I do it is always with trepidation, I never quite know if there will be any reaction that may be caused by cross contamination. I have not travelled at all since my diagnosis but would really love to take a trip to visit a friend that relocated to NYC. I am planning to go out there towards the end of October. In preparation for my trip I am trying to determine which restaurants are safe for me to eat at, or are more willing to work with me on ensuring that my food is allergen free. I would totally appreciate it if you could guide me towards some locations.

Thanks,

Denise

Hi Denise,

This is definitely not an area I know much about, but I refer you first to a friend’s site–The Gluten Free Girl. She’s busy with her newborn right now, but if you search her archives I know she’s visited New York and she might have some really helpful advice for working with restaurants to accomodate you. Otherwise, I refer you to my readers (if they’re still reading): New York readers, can you help Denise out in the comments? Please do!

Best of luck, Denise.

Adam

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  • http://www.kittalog.com Kitt

    Some great advice there! I especially like the schmaltz tip.

    Seconding many of your cookbook choices, too. I love “All About Braising.” (I made braised fish and leeks from it again just recently. It works as a summer dish, too.)

  • LisaInCT

    Loved the post Adam! I think it a great way to answer reader’s questions (as soom of us might also want to know the answer) and I LOVED the cookbook list. Maybe, one post a month could be centered around your fav cookbook for that month. Whatever you decide keep sharing your favorite cookbooks with us.

  • http://sexygirlseat.blogspot.com Rochelle

    Adam,

    Another read you might enjoy, if you like the combination of storytelling/recipe sharing in a cookbook is Kim Sunee’s Trail of Crumbs. Beautifully, beautifully written. Very sexy and alluring recipes too. :O)

  • http://blackhatinthecorner.blogspot.com Haley

    Just a note, Adam, about Vickie’s first question. I work for a plumbing company and I can tell you my technicians would all be screaming at you right now! You are correct, fat/grease should not be thrown down the sink, but neither should scum. It may not clog right away, but it will cause buildup, not unlike plaque in our arteries. My technicians have told “horror stories” of drain line replacement due to built up grease, fat and scum that cannot be cleared from the drains.

    Just some friendly suggestions, I know before I started working there, I did not know all of the things you should not throw down the drain, even if you have a garbage disposal!

    Otherwise, great post!

  • tulip

    Jesse I can’t second the recommendation for Prune enough!! I was steered there by Adam’s thoughts on and love for the restaurant and it was GREAT!

    I went in April for my birthday and the staff could not have been nicer and the food was fantastic! Let us know if you go! :)

  • Michelle

    For Denise-

    You are in luck, as there is a wealth of restaurants in New York that will cater to wheat-free customers, and many that are also sensitive to seafood allergies. There is also a wealth of blogs out there- check out Allergic Girl http://allergicgirl.blogspot.com/ (she too has seafood allergies and is wheat-intolerant and dines out a lot)- I’d start there. You can also check out http://www.glutenfreerestaurants.org/ (which will tackle the wheat issue but perhaps not the seafood one). Best of luck!

  • http://missblotto.blogspot.com Meghan

    I’ve dined out with my deathly-allergic aunt and seen her send back a salad because it had shrimp in it, and then have it come back with the shrimp just picked out. NOT okay (fortunately, she realized that it was the same salad, now with just a residue of anaphylaxis). So I’d say that if you’re going to dine in a restaurant that serves seafood, make sure it’s a place with a real emphasis on service, that will accomodate you happily (going out on a limb, I’d guess that any Danny Meyer restaurant would be good for this).

    Also, BBQ places like Fette Sau or Dinosaur BBQ that just don’t prepare seafood (and are awesome), or (on the other end of the specturm), vegetarian places! Pure Food & Wine, Red Bamboo, Kate’s Joint–I’m not usually so wild about veg. cooking but you can be assured that there isn’t any shrimp in the kitchen.

  • Vickie

    Thanks Adam! And thanks too to Haley for following up my first question. I guess I’ll start saving up for those cookbooks!

  • Vickie

    Thanks Adam! And thanks too to Haley for following up my first question. I guess I’ll start saving up for those cookbooks!

  • Wendy in Seattle

    Adam – this post is just packed with awesome gems! Cookbook recommendations, favorite NY restaurants, cooking tool tips. I love it! Thank you!!!

  • http://peanutfree.blogspot.com Gabrielle

    I second the recommendation to check out the Allergic Girl site. Sloane is a great lady and really knows her stuff when it comes to allergy-friendly places in NYC. She even has a supper club that goes out each month to restaurants that prepare allergen free dishes for the group.

    Another cookbook suggestion: the big yellow Gourmet cookbook. I’ve had lots of success with the recipes (and ideas) in there.

    Love your site Adam – looking forward to the recipe for those salt and pepper shrimp!

  • http://peanutfree.blogspot.com Gabrielle

    I second the recommendation to check out the Allergic Girl site. Sloane is a great lady and really knows her stuff when it comes to allergy-friendly places in NYC. She even has a supper club that goes out each month to restaurants that prepare allergen free dishes for the group.

    Another cookbook suggestion: the big yellow Gourmet cookbook. I’ve had lots of success with the recipes (and ideas) in there.

    Love your site Adam – looking forward to the recipe for those salt and pepper shrimp!

  • http://peanutfree.blogspot.com Gabrielle

    I second the recommendation to check out the Allergic Girl site. Sloane is a great lady and really knows her stuff when it comes to allergy-friendly places in NYC. She even has a supper club that goes out each month to restaurants that prepare allergen free dishes for the group.

    Another cookbook suggestion: the big yellow Gourmet cookbook. I’ve had lots of success with the recipes (and ideas) in there.

    Love your site Adam – looking forward to the recipe for those salt and pepper shrimp!

  • http://cburas.blogspot.com Christine

    Hi Adam,

    In addition to your advice on the knife buyer, I’d direct Vickie to the Cooks Illustrated chefs knife recommendations. Their top knife is the Forschner (by Victorinox) chefs knife, which runs for about $30.

    Also, I adore your site! Keep up the great work!!

    Christine

  • http://cburas.blogspot.com Christine

    Hi Adam,

    In addition to your advice on the knife buyer, I’d direct Vickie to the Cooks Illustrated chefs knife recommendations. Their top knife is the Forschner (by Victorinox) chefs knife, which runs for about $30.

    Also, I adore your site! Keep up the great work!!

    Christine

  • http://cateskitchen.blogspot.com Cate

    Thanks for the brilliant advice! I’m happy to say I own most of the cookbooks on your list (but I actually do make things from my Zuni cookbook and you should too!)

  • LisaInCT

    Rochelle,

    I found Kin Sunee’s, Trail of Crumbs beautifully written, but, hauntingly sad.

  • cybercita

    adam,

    if you haven’t tried the peach tart from cooking for mister latte, i suggest you RUN to the greenmarket and get some red jacket orchards apricots and make that tart! talk about wow! amanda suggests some revisions: don’t peel the peaches, and add a bit more flour to the topping to prevent excessive juiciness.

    i’ve made it dozens of times with peaches, apricots, nectarines, blackberries, apples, pears, and rhubarb. it’s always splendid.

    i love that almond cake, too.

  • alpurv

    Great questions and comments! I must comment on the need of a good knife. I do not know of a great nife that will keep an edge and wear well over the years. I can really recommend Wusthoff santoku knife. I LOVE, LOVE it! Doing research online will yeild the best price, but it will run somewhere around $70, I think.

    Another great cookbook is “The Way To Cook” by Julia Child. An oldie, but a goodie!

  • Tara B

    For Denise:

    At http://www.foodiebytes.com, you can search every menu of every restaurant in various cities, by ingredient & keyword. It’s a great site if you have allergies or if you just NEED to find a place that’s serves coconut cream pie. Enjoy!

  • Beth

    I know I’m like one of a million, but I love reading your blog. Thanks for all the great posts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Beth

    I know I’m like one of a million, but I love reading your blog. Thanks for all the great posts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Annmarie

    Denise, you should check out Risotteria (spelling? no idea.) on Bleecker Street. Their specialty is gluten-free risotto and rice dishes, although they do have regular risotto and pasta dishes, some with meat and some without. So its a great place to go with a group of people who all have different restrictions. And its also just really good. And then you can go to Grom down the street – yum….

  • http://www.robynsfoodblog.blogspot.com Robyn

    Jesse, for an out-of-this-world bagel experience, definitely pop into Ess-a bagel on 51 st and 3rd avenue. Bagels are always hot and the variety of spreads is unfathomable!

  • http://www.chesapeakebaygiftbaskets.com laura

    Are you serious about “schmaltz” — is it really called that or are you joking? Sounds like a yiddish word for something ucky. :)