Because a bare cupboard and an empty fridge are sad sights to behold, the Urban Forager hunts through food & wine shops bringing home tasty morsels that make your kitchen table the best place to eat in town.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Word About the Curd

Last week, a friend called and asked me what a Cheese Curd was. The next day I was walking by Saxelby Cheesemongers and their sign announced that they had just gotten a batch of Cheese Curds in. Fate? Coincidence? I don’t know, but when the universe speaks I listen, and I walked right in to buy some.
When my friend had first asked me what a Cheese Curd was, the best I could come up with was that a Cheese Curd is a cheese by-product, basically something that falls out of the vat while the cheese is being made. Mmm, doesn’t that sound good? But the thing is, Cheese Curds are good. The ones being sold at Saxelby’s were delicious in fact, so I was determined to come up with a more appetizing description. When I asked Anne Saxelby for her description of Cheese Curds, we got into a long Cheese Curd discussion (this is how cheese people are, immediately friendly with one another and completely unembarrassed by our geekiness).
To make a very long and somewhat complicated cheesemaking lesson short…at the beginning of the cheesemaking process milk begins to coagulate into curds (semi-solid formations) and whey (liquid). The curds and whey are eventually separated and the individual curds are put into molds so they can meld into whole blocks or wheels of cheese. This is the point, I believe, when Cheese Curds jump ship. They are young chunks of cheesy rebelliousness forsaking a respectable life as a wheel of cheddar for life as an individual curd.
Cheese Curds are oddly shaped chunks of un-aged cheese. They are soft and sometimes a little rubbery, and have been known to sometimes give off a squeaky sound when chewed. Cheese Curds do not always have to come from cheddar, but they usually do, giving them a mild, cheddary taste. They are the ultimate kid-friendly food (more fun to eat than string cheese). Because they are best young and fresh, Cheese Curds are usually sold directly by cheesemakers at farmers markets (I’ve seen them at the Santa Monica Sunday Market), they’re everywhere in Wisconsin, and even sells them now (this is not an encouragement to buy them from Amazon. The online empire has to be stopped somewhere, and Cheese Curds is where I draw the line.) If you live in New York, I highly recommend the curds at Saxelby’s. Get ‘em before they’re gone!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Money in a Bottle

Recently, a reader who noticed that the wines I’ve reviewed so far have been in the $12 range asked me if buying a bottle that is three, four or five times more expensive is really worth it.
Right now I’m buying bottles of wine under $12 for the same reason I’m wearing a $9 shirt I bought at Target. That’s what the budget allows. As soon as this blog rockets me to stardom I’ll no doubt up the wine budget. But when I have more money will I always buy more expensive wine? Nope.
There is a vast ocean of wine in the $20-$60 range, and frankly, fishing out a great bottle can be a crap shoot. The frustrating thing about wine is that paying more doesn’t guarantee you’ll like the wine more. In many cases, this is simply a matter of taste. A wine that your friend loves, you may hate. This holds true whether the wine cost $10 or $60. Similarly, if you dislike big, juicy, fruity wines, a $50 wine made in this style won’t taste any better to you than a $20 wine made in this style. And keep in mind that just because a critic raves about a wine, it doesn’t mean you’ll agree its great (since when have you liked every movie that’s lauded by critics?)
Sadly, when you’re holding a $50 bottle in your hand and debating whether or not to splurge, bottle labels and store signs are rarely helpful; if you’ve read one description about lush red berries and gorgeous ripe whatever, you’ve read them all. Your only defense is this: buy your wine in a store with employees who know wine and will help you. This doesn’t mean you have to shop in a fancy shmancy wine store. My mom raves about the “wine lady” at her local grocery store. You just need to shop in a store where employees can explain the way a wine tastes in a way that makes sense to you.
The problem with buying more expensive wine is that your expectations go way up. Many people expect the “flavor” of a more expensive and/or well-aged wine to blow their socks off, when in many cases this type of wine is very subtle. Think of it in terms of music. Drinking expensive and well-aged wines can be compared to listening to a musician perform unplugged in an intimate setting. If you’re use to seeing Eddie Vedder crowd-diving and playing loud guitar and hanging from the rafters while he screeches out songs, you might be a little under-whelmed if suddenly you see him perform alone in a small bar with only his ukulele. But as the night goes on you’ll begin to think, man, this Eddie Vedder guy can really sing. You’ll hear the subtle variations in his voice, you’ll see the expressions on his face, you’ll hear every word of the lyrics.
Right now there are three types of wine I would personally consider splurging for: Burgundy (what is there not to love about wine that smells like moldy mushrooms?), Champagne (this is one type of wine that does seem to get better by price) and wine from Washington State (what can I say, I’m loyal to my homeland).

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Good Year

Who, I ask, could not use a vacation in March? The gray skies. The cold wind. The wrinkled root vegetables that are all starting to taste the same. If a plane ticket to Europe is out of your reach, may I suggest adding A Good Year to your Netflix account? Set in the vineyards of Provence, it is a perfect two-hour vacation that will make you crave the finer things in life, like wine and cheese and leisurely meals eaten outdoors. Sure, it’s a little corny and predictable, but it was one of the only movies I’ve seen in the last six months that caused drool to run down my chin while I watched it (this also happened when I re-watched Beautiful Girls the other night and saw Timothy Hutton, but for an entirely different reason.)
While watching the many beauiful vineyard scenes in A Good Year I think I actually reached towards the screen trying to grab food and a glass of wine out of Russell Crowe’s hand. But you can watch it at home with a spread of food and wine in front of you, which is the only proper way to watch this movie. Usually I have a hard time with culinary-themed movies, mainly because Hollywood has such a hard time getting chefs right (anyone see Spanglish? I know critics had much deeper complaints, but personally I just couldn’t believe Adam Sandler’s character was a chef.) A new film coming out in July, No Reservations, will star Catherine Zeta-Jones as a chef and I don’t know if I’m buyin’ that casting choice either. But Russell Crow as an egotistical asshole who spends his days slugging back wine? Now, that I believe. So open a bottle wine, set out a plate of food, put in the movie, and go on that much needed vacation. If anyone else has some favorite food films, let us know!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Prickly Pear

Ever since I saw the movie Leaving Las Vegas (in which Nicholas Cage gets shards of glass stuck in his hand and yells as only a frantic Nicholas Cage can, “I’m like a prickly pear!”) I have been curious about the Prickly Pear. Sadly, ten long years passed between Nicholas Cage yelling, “I’m a prickly pear!” and me actually buying one, but why dwell on that? The important thing is that I have now come to know the Prickly Pear, specifically in the form of an open-faced peanut butter and cactus jelly sandwich. For the record, I am a peanut butter purist. That’s right, I don’t particularly like the jelly part of a PB&J. But I found this cactus jelly to be quite nice. The flavor is mild; slightly floral with a peach/watermelon flavor. I bought the cactus jelly at a Spanish store that imports it from the Canary Islands, but the prickly pear fruit itself can be found fairly easily in markets and grocery stores (or growing on the side of the road in hot climates). To cook with the prickly pear fruit just peel it and mash or cut the red, seedy inside and throw it into pies, ice-cream, fruit salad or your blender (prickly pear margarita anyone?)

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Onion Goggles

Let's face it: most tools in our kitchens these days are not really necessary. Anything that a garlic press, zester,potato peeler or food processor can do, a chef's knife can do just as well. What most of these tools do is make cooking easier and therefore more fun. And what, I ask, could be more fun than wearing onion goggles? I don't know who, but someone I know is going to be getting these as a gift this year. Available in white,black or pink (my personal favorite) these goggles block out onion vapors with an airtight seal. No more tears! They are also slightly tinted to avoid the pesky glare of sunshine so often found in kitchens and fog-proof, if things get steamy. If onion goggles are a little too hip for you, you can always try other less-proven methods to avoid onion tears (burn a candle next to the cutting board, put the onion in the freezer or soak in water before cutting, never cut from the root end, hold your breath while cutting) Made by R.S.V.P International, onion goggles can be found in kitchen stores like Sur la Table.

Friday, March 2, 2007


For this week’s edition of “What the Hell is This?” I reached into a garbage can filled with water and floating green objects that were about the size of a large grapefruit. Due to a language barrier between the store clerk and myself, I had no idea if what I was buying was a fruit or a vegetable, but for less than two dollars I figured the risk was worth it. It took twenty minutes of typing various combinations of the words “dominican republic green fruit vegetable” into Google before I realized two things:
1.) What I had bought was a Breadfruit
2.) I need to buy “Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables” by
E. Schneider
The Breadfruit I bought was mature, but not ripe. Raw, it had an aroma somewhere between a pumpkin and a melon. The inside texture was squash-like. Its starchy nature is often compared to the potato but the texture is different – the Breadfruit floats. I cut it in half and peeled it (this required a knife; a potato peeler couldn’t get through the thick skin). I put half in the oven to bake and half on the stove to boil. Twenty minutes later, inexplicably, I started craving cinnamon rolls. I sniffed the air. It smelled like a bakery in my apartment. Egad! A baking breadfruit smells like bread! This moment of discovery made me remember why I love working with food. As an adult, how often do we really get to experience completely new things? But if you step in a kitchen or sit down at a table, it can happen all the time. In this case it was touching, smelling and tasting something I had never experienced before. Other times it's about tasting something normal, like a pork chop, in a whole new way. You can eat a hundred pork chops, then one day someone cooks it in way you’ve never thought of and it’s like your tasting pork chops again for the first time. But I digress…The flavor of the breadfruit, unfortunately, was less memorable than the aroma, slightly sweet and very bland. Recipes indicate its best mixed with a rich and flavorful ingredient, like sausage, butter and even coconut milk. You can learn more about how to cook it from The Breadfruit Cookbook and you can learn other uses for Breadfruit, like spackling canoes with its sap, from The Breadfruit Institute.