When we shop for groceries overseas, we like to bring home salt. We never realized how acrid American table salt can be (and how bland kosher salt is) until we started using salt from other places. It’s obvious that gray sea salt from the flats of Brittany or Normandy would have a distinct flavor, and we often use such salts for cooking. But our favorite, hands down, is simple supermarket sea salt from Catalunya, specifically the Sal Costa brand, which sells for less than two euros a kilo. Unfortunately, Spain has succumbed to the American penchant for adulterating food by putting in “healthy” additives, so the finely ground Sal Costa sea salt for table use has added fluoride. Like the iodine in American salt, the additives make the salt bitter. Fortunately, Sal Costa does not mess with its granular salt intended for baking fish. (The recipe is on the package: Pack a whole fish in a kilo of salt. Roast in 425F/220C oven for 30 minutes.) We keep some of the “roasting salt” on the back of the stove to add to pasta water and we fill a couple of salt grinders with it for other cooking and table use. It adds the perfect Spanish coastal flavor to a paella or a tortilla española. For other recipes (in Spanish), see Sal Costa’s own home page: www.salcosta.com.
Archive for the ‘Grocery stores’Category
Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else.
The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north.
The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be a worldwide commodity, but Louisiana dried shrimp has a distinctive flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s great in a shrimp cream sauce or a soup. The garlic sauce from Poche’s is an essential ingredient in some quarters for dousing boiled crawfish tails. The instant roux mix, while not so different from Wondra flour, makes a great tan roux.
When we were in Istanbul last week, we were surprised to discover that it’s common for unmarried men and women to live with their families well into their 30s. So when we asked our first guide, who is 30-something, what to buy in a grocery store, he was utterly clueless. His mother does all the cooking, and apparently all the shopping too. He’s not even sure what’s in her recipes.
But our second guide proved a more modern young Turk. Yusuf Kilig works in Istanbul, far from his family’s village in the south, and shares a flat with roommates. He knows his way around the kitchen, and the supermarket aisles as well. Yusuf had also worked for a few months at Walt Disney World in Orlando, and remembered vividly the foods he couldn’t find at the local Publix. So off we went to Migros, where we discovered that vivid packaging helped ameliorate our inability to read Turkish.
Because he grew up in an olive oil producing region, Yusuf is particularly knowledgeable (or at least opinionated) about which oils are best. He recommends the Kirangic Çökeltme extra-virgin oil as Turkey’s finest. And he has strong feelings about the best Turkish coffee (Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi).
Although he cooks a lot of simple meals from scratch, Yusuf is a big proponent of dried soups and spice mixes for dips. The classic red lentil soup of Turkey (ezogelin çorbasi) is widely available as a dried mix in pouches, and the spices to make a tomato dip (domates çeşnisi) or a yogurt dip (yoğurt çeşnisi) speed the process of getting an assortment of mezes on the table. They’re often found together with the vast array of dried soup mixes, many of them made by the Turkish branch of the Swiss firm Knorr. One of our favorites proved to be manti soup – a yogurt broth with tiny pieces of pasta wrapping bits of ground lamb and mint. Yusuf, though, is partial to tarhana soup – an ancient dish made from a mixture of yogurt, cracked wheat, and vegetables that have been fermented together, then dried. Cooks all over Turkey rehydrate it and chop some red peppers on top to make soup.
“It’s what your mother makes for you when you’re sick,” says Yusuf.
Whenever I visit a British grocery store I scour the shelves for the most unusual items. But it’s really the comfort foods that define a cuisine — or at least taste like home. That’s the lesson I learned from a lovely woman in Leeds who had lived and worked in Taiwan for 15 years. When I asked her what I might want to buy in the city’s big Sainsbury grocery store, she immediately rattled off the items that she had most craved during her years abroad.
At the end of every visit home, she would pack herself a big care package for her return trip to Taiwan. Here are the foods she couldn’t do without:
Heinz Tomato Soup. It’s ultimate comfort food.
Heinz Baked Beanz. Brits consider this version superior to the American version.
Heinz Salad Cream. This tangy dressing has a consistency like mayonnaise. Dubbed “pourable sunshine,” it’s as popular on sandwiches or baked potatoes as it is on salads.
Marmite. This yeast extract with a strong, salty flavor is equally loved and hated, even in Great Britain. The dark brown paste is usually spread on toast, with or without a little butter.
Walkers Salt & Vinegar Crisps (potato chips, to Americans). Walkers is the favorite brand in the UK and the salt and vinegar variation has a tangy, salty flavor that is quite addictive.
Cadbury Dairy Milk Whole Nut Bars. Introduced in 1933, this bar pairs Cadbury’s creamy, high milk content chocolate with whole hazelnuts.
And here are a few more items that I like to throw into my grocery cart:
HP Sauce. This secret-recipe brown sauce has been manufactured since 1899 and is a favored accompaniment for beef. The original version is available in many U.S. grocery stores, but it’s worth seeking out some of the other flavor options, including the blend of HP and Guinness.
Branston Rich & Fruity Sauce. This mix of tomatoes, apples, and dates is blended with herbs, spices, sugar, vinegar, and molasses to make a sweet but tangy brown sauce. It’s good on scrambled eggs.
Cadbury Flake. The crumbly bar of thin sheets of milk chocolate is the classic adornment to a scoop of ice cream.
Ultimately, we did visit the amazing museums at Vatican City—and here’s our sneaked photo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling to prove it. (Yeah, like we were the only ones….) But we have to admit that we were originally waylaid by Rome’s greatest gourmet food shop. And who could blame us? Gastronomy is Italy’s other art. Or maybe its other religion.
When we’d finished eating lunch at Franchi (see previous post), we decided that it was a good time to stop in at Castroni (Via Cola di Rienzo 196, Tel: 06-68-74-383, www.castronicoladirienzo.it, open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm), reasoning that since we were already stuffed, we would be immune to the lures of the merchandise. It was only next door, and we’d still have plenty of time to get back to the Vatican.
The legend over the door reads Castroni Droghe Coloniali, but like some pop stars, the place is famous enough to go by a single moniker. And Castroni is indeed a name to conjure with. Since 1932 the flagship store in the Prati district east of the Vatican has proved that all gastronomic roads lead to Rome. On seeing the walls lined 15 feet high with gourmet goodies, David pleaded, “Do we have to go to the Sistine Chapel today?” Pat gave in, and we postponed the museum trip by a day.
Many ex-pats swear by Castroni for the tastes of home—the full line of Twinings teas, for example, or a broad range of Fauchon products from Paris, or good smoked Spanish paprika. But all the flavors of Italy also find their way to this wonderful shop. This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, and while north and south, right and left seem no closer to real unity than they have been since the days of Vittorio Emanuele II himself, Castroni brings all the regions together for a gastronomic love fest.
There’s a modest bar with some casual food, so it’s possible to pop in for lunch and then to spend an afternoon just shopping. (Or drooling.) Bins hold virtually every variety of dried bean or chickpea grown anywhere on the peninsula. The store’s own brand of dry pastas include bags with mixed Roman monuments (maybe the ultimate gastronomic souvenir), and Castroni’s own coffee (whole bean or ground) makes an authentic-tasting Roman espresso—dark and syrupy with some high, almost lemony notes that suggest a lot of East African coffees in the blend. If you find the flavor addictive, the shop also sells a coffee concentrate passed off as an energy drink.
Had we demonstrated the foresight to bring an empty suitcase from home, we would have stocked up on all kinds of goodies that U.S. Customs would let us bring in, including the dazzling array of pestos from Abruzzo made of ripe Leccino olives, of asparagus, or of radicchio. Just add hot pasta and you have a stupendous meal. We also would have loaded up on duck liver and orange pâtés and the jars of small green peppers stuffed with duck liver mousse, not to mention hot-pepper-inspired salsas from Sicily and white truffle and porcini salsas from Umbria.
But since we were traveling light, we limited ourselves to squeeze tubes of tomato paste, mushroom cream, black olive puree, and mixed vegetables. (A squirt of the mixed vegetables paste into chicken broth makes it taste like minestrone.) We find them amazingly versatile in the kitchen, allowing us to add a dollop to eggs, salad dressing, soup, or a sauce to shade the flavor one way or another. (They also make great gifts for friends who cook.) In fact, the only thing we expected to find at Castroni but didn’t were the truffle products of Acqualagna in Le Marche, where the local motto is ”truffles all year long.” More on that next time….
It’s easy to get a good, quick lunch in Rome. Usually we opt for a couple of slices of pizza in whatever pizzeria is closest when we’re hungry. But for even more variety, we sometimes head to a tavola calda—an amazing array of hot and cold dishes ordered at a counter, served up quickly and almost always eaten standing up. One of the best in Rome is found at Franchi (Via Cola di Rienzo 200, tel. 06-68-74-651, www.franchi.it.), which is also one of the city’s most extravagant alimentari (local food stores).
Outside of meal time, this is the spot in the Prati neighborhood to buy sliced cold cuts, cheese, and cooked dishes to take home for dinner. But at lunchtime, the shop is swarmed with office workers (including those from the nearby Prati courthouse) who order from the daily selection of dishes on the tavola calda. The chefs are known for their arancini: breaded and fried balls of risotto drooling with mozzarella inside. But they also make other good things, such as a cold rice salad studded with shrimp and layered with slices of cured salmon, deep-fried cod fillets, oven-roasted vegetables drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, creamy pools of polenta and melted cheese, manicotti….
The scene is a bit chaotic. You place your order, return to the cashier to pay, grab a tray and wait for your food, then hope you can score a tall table or bit of counter space to balance your food while you eat standing up. (Be careful who you elbow aside—the courthouse guards are packing.) Our last visit was a reward for shuffling in the long and pointless lines to visit St. Peter’s. We needed the break before plunging into the crowds at the Vatican museums. The rice balls did not disappoint, the slice of lasagna was as good as any we’ve eaten in a white linen dining room, and the slab of polenta was rich and cheesy.
Since business took me to St. James’s Street in London (mostly to visit the iconic wine shop of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which has been there since 1698), there was no way I could miss visiting Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly; tel: 0845.602.5694; www.fortnumandmason.com), practically around the corner. I could tell that Christmas was coming when I met chocolatier David Burns (above) just inside the front door, handing out samples of his chocolates. (The lavendar English cream that he gave me was as divine as I’d expected.) Burns and his wife Keely operate the small firm that has supplied handmade chocolates to F&M since the 1920s.
By the first week of October, my favorite London purveyor of gourmet goodies had transformed its first floor into the Christmas shop. Given the paucity of British autumn holidays, the retailers start Christmas early. But no one does the flavors of Christmas quite like the Brits, who have spun a whole gastronomic fantasy about holiday sweets and savories (and sweet savories, like mincemeat). For example, who can resist a jar of Christmas rum butter to accompany Christmas puddings and pies?
The store is a great place to buy holiday gifts for foodie friends (I’ll take the whole-grain mustard, please, and a bottle of F&M’s own beef extract–a hideously expensive commodity ever since mad cow mania shut down the British beef industry for a while). Maybe the nicest of the Fortnum & Mason teas is the white Yunnan, but I find the packaging of the “Royal Blend Stronger Tea” irresistibly colorful.
Fortnum & Mason tries to have Christmas both ways, of course. Advent calendars make it nigh unto impossible to find the cash register, and the tins of plum pudding and other sticky sponge-like things conjure up the feel-good emotions of a Charles Dickens Christmas. But even Fortnum & Mason can sometimes jump the shark with its Yuletide enthusiasms. Just who do they think will be serving the “Arctic delicacy” of reindeer paté at their Christmas party?
The graffito above pretty much says it all. Montrealers love their cheese. We’ve been in Montreal for most of the last month doing the research for Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal, to be published next spring from Globe Pequot Press. (See our first volume in the series, Food Lovers’ Guide to Massachusetts, under the tab ”Some Books.”) We have to admit that we are staggered by the explosion in artisanal cheese-making in Quebec. La Belle Province is beginning to rival La France when it comes to great fromage.
Many of Quebec’s best cheeses are made from raw milk, but thanks to NAFTA, all Quebec cheeses are allowed into the United States, even though similar cheeses from France might be banned.
Gilles Jourdenais, owner of Le Fromagerie Atwater, the wonderful cheese shop in the equally wonderful Marché Atwater (138 avenue Atwater), told us that there are about 400 Quebec cheeses now – and that about half of them are very good. Of the 850 cheeses in his shop, about 175 are from Quebec. Jourdenais is particularly high on:
1608, a semi-soft cheese from milk of a 17th century heritage breed of Canadienne cattle.
L’Hércule du Charlevoix, an Alpine-style cheese made from milk from Jersey cows.
Le Fleurmier, a brie style also made from Jersey milk.
Grey Owl, an ash-covered goat’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Le Détour in Notre-Dame-du-Lac.
14 Arpents, a farm cheese similar to a Pont l’Evesque
Sauvagine, a washed rind cheese from St-Raymond de Pontneuf, that was crowned grand champion of Canadian cheeses in 2006
Out in Outremont, La Maison du Cheddar (1311 avenue Van Horne) focuses entirely on Quebec cheeses and carries about 300 examples. Co-owner Jean-Pierre Gariepy can talk for hours just about the cheddars, and he uses three-, four- and five-year-old cheddars from St-Guillaume for tastings in the shop. He tends to second Jourdenais’s choices, but he is also a big fan of some other Quebec cheeses:
Chèvre Noir, a goat cheddar that Gariepy calls “a masterpiece” from Fromagerie Tournevent in Chesterville.
Riopelle de l’Île, named after the painter who often vacationed on L’Île aux Grues, where the cheese is made. It’s somewhere between a brie and a Camembert.
Pied-de-Vent, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
Victor et Berthold, one of the pioneer cheeses of the Quebec artisanal cheese movement that got started about 15 years ago.
Le Cendrillon, an ash-covered soft goat’s milk cheese whose name translates as “Cinderella.” Made by La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, it was chosen as the best cheese in the world in an international competition held on the Canary Islands in 2009.
Le Douanier (“the customs officer”) made by Fritz Kaiser, in the village of Noyan near the Vermont and New York border.
When we visited, Gariepy was using Le Douanier, a slightly tart semi-soft cheese made in the style of a French Morbier, along with a confit of onions, apple, cinnamon, and white wine, in his ”grilled cheese sandwich of the week.”
It is funny that France is such a fantastic country for eating but we rarely discover as many finds in French grocery stores as we do in other countries. Part of the problem is that most of the good stuff (like the sausages and the fresh produce and seafood) can’t be brought home. The other factor is that many French foods are available in our local groceries, so we have learned to be restrained. We have also found that the fancy stores like Bon Marché and Galeries de Lafayette are big on stocking what they consider exotic delicacies-like American ketchup. There are a few things we just cannot pass up. Here’s our shopping list when we visit Paris:
Herbes de Provence. We’ve been told that this blend of dried herbs typical of the Provençal countryside was invented as a marketing ploy in the 1970s. We don’t care. The blend is handy to toss into almost everything from a stew to a vinaigrette. Why bother to bring it all the way home from Paris? Because, unlike American manufacturers, the French don’t muddy up the flavors by putting lavender flowers and leaves in the mix of savory, fennel, basil, and thyme. And the herbs are cheap if you skip the fancy crockware packaging.
Cassis mustard. Talking with French mustard makers, we learned that even in Dijon, much of the mustard seed comes from Canada, even though it is processed in France. And we are fortunate that some good French mustards (usually Maille) are fairly available in our local stores. But we never see cassis mustard in the U.S., so we always try to pick some up. Its sweet-savory flavor makes it the perfect spread for a sandwich made with leftover charcoal-grilled chicken.
Dried morel mushrooms. Again, they’re available in the U.S., but here in New England they tend to cost an arm and a leg. In France they are relatively cheap, and 3 ounces of dried mushrooms yield about the same volume as a pound of fresh morels. The flavor is intense and meaty. We think the simplest treatment-a morel mushroom omelette-is the best. Rehydrate them by soaking about 5 minutes in warm water and sauté lightly in butter before adding them to the eggs.
Tinned foie gras. Tout le monde makes preserved foie gras, but only the French seem to do it really well. Or, more specifically, the Alsatians. We like the goose foie gras from Strasbourg, which is poached and packed in tins. Once in a while we’ll use some in a sauce, but it’s really best lightly chilled and cut in thin slices spread on a plate and served with a sweet wine. The French prefer Sauternes, but it’s also nice with an intense gewürztraminer from any of the Rhine regions (preferably an auslese).
Crème de marrons de l’Ardeche. This sweetened chestnut cream is France’s answer to Nutella. It’s used in cookies and making millefeuille pastries, as an additive to whipped cream, or just spread on a buttery croissant. The French also like to squirt some from the tube on a crepe and roll it up to serve. It makes a pretty impressive dessert with very little effort. This is one French fast food we heartily endorse.
Drinking chocolate. Every culture does hot chocolate (chocolate chaud) a little differently. In Paris you usually get a little pitcher of hot milk and a little pitcher of concentrated chocolate to mix to taste in your cup. The next best thing to ducking into Angelina (226 rue de Rivoli, (0)1 42 60 82 00) on a chilly Paris day is mixing up a pot of thick hot chocolate at home. The fancier grocery stores in Paris tend to stock Angelina’s mix along with several others. We often pick up extras for the folks who have been feeding the cat or picking up the mail.
Hot Miami chef Dean James Max (who happens to be up for a James Beard restaurateur award this year) is also the talent behind one of our favorite Grand Cayman restaurants, The Brasserie. Part of what makes The Brasserie so terrific is that Max and his staff use local fish, local produce, and all kinds of goodies they grow in the restaurant garden. The menu is also inspired by Caribbean traditions. Of the restaurant’s complex chicken pepper-pot soup, he says, “The peppers you get here on Grand Cayman are just incredible.”
So leave it to Max to find a fun use for the ubiquitous island confection, Tortuga rum cake. (You might recall that we wrote about the cake in What to buy in a grocery store on Grand Cayman Island.)
Alas, we consumed the last of our rum cake stash in late January, so we’ll have to wait for a return visit to make this bread pudding, which we have slightly adapted from his recipe in the April issue of his newsletter. Max comments, “This has been such a cold winter, even for us in Florida, that we really need to coax in the warm summer with a great island style rum cake. I hope you enjoy this simple and tasty recipe! Bring on the heat.”
Tortuga Rum Bread Pudding
8 oz. Tortuga Rum Cake (diced)
2 cups cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup Tortuga rum
3 Tablespoons soft butter
1. Toast the diced cake pieces on a baking sheet in the oven until they dry slightly and become crisp. Let cool.
2. Mix cream, sugar, and vanilla bean in a saucepan and heat until hot. Remove from heat.
3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Stir a small amount of hot cream into the eggs to temper them, then blend eggs slowly into the cream.
4. In a separate small saucepan, heat the rum and cherries and let them soak until cooled. Add cherry-rum mix to the egg-cream mixture.
5. Generously butter a baking pan and scatter the cake pieces to completely cover. Pour the custard over the bread and let it soak at room temperature for 10 minutes.
6. Set the baking dish in a water bath in a preheated 325 degree oven. Cover top loosely with foil and bake for about 30 minutes or until the custard has set. Remove dish from oven; remove foil and let cool. Cut the pudding and serve warm or chilled.