Category Archives: Food for Thought

General musings about food

Back in the Saddle…er…Blogosphere

Since Bon Appétit recently renewed interest in my family’s Cheese Thing, which then renewed interest in my blog, I’ve decided to revive the sleeping Cook and Eat Better from its mothballed state. (In high school I worked in Ontario’s energy utility, Ontario Hydro, and “mothballing” was what they did to nuclear reactors that were taken offline.) What the heck, I continue to cook and eat better, so maybe there’s a reason to keep sharing more than just an Instagram post or tweet. (Maybe not.)

I’ll take the Cheese Thing enthusiasm to mean that home cooking of homey recipes continues to be popular. And considering since I last posted here I’ve been included on’s list of the 100 Greatest Home Cooks of All Time, and the Forward’s list of the 50 Most Influential Jews in America, I thought I’d rev up the family’s Kasha Varnishkes recipe, thereby killing two lists one groat.

I was honored to be asked to write an ode to KV for Tablet Magazine‘s recent compendium of the 100 Most Jewish Foods.Who am I to argue. Here’s how it begins:

“My husband is a palliative care doctor who helps people with serious illness make critical decisions, often at the end of their lives. Several years ago, I told him he had better learn how to make my family’s kasha varnishkes because they would be among my final requests. A combination of…[READ MORE]”

That ode didn’t include our recipe (my mother never used one). But for those with less of a yiddishkeit culinary gift, here’s my closest approximation for you, adapted from my book, The Mensch Chef:

Davis Family Kasha Varnishkes

Makes 2 quarts, about 12 servings

2 cups boiling water, stock, or chicken soup


1 cup dry, medium granulation kasha

1 large egg, beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 large yellow onions, chopped

12 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms, chopped

1 ounce assorted dried mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped

1/2 pound bowtie pasta (farfalle) or egg noodles

2 cups

In a small saucepan heat the water or stock and salt until boiling. Place the kasha in a wide saucepan or sauté pan. Add the beaten egg and stir into the kasha to distribute. The kasha will clump together, but don’t worry about it. Set over medium-high heat and stir the kasha continuously to toast. As it heats, the clumps should break apart into grains and the kasha should give off a distinct buckwheat aroma. Once the kasha has browned slightly, about 5 minutes, pour in the hot liquid. Add 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, cover, turn down the heat to very low, and simmer until all of the water has been absorbed and the kasha has plumped, 7 or 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, prepare the mushrooms and onions. Heat the butter in a medium saucepan or large frying pan. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, 7 or 8 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, 2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms have given off most of their moisture, about 20 minutes. Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more. Adjust the seasoning, which should be salty and peppery.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (about 4 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons salt). Cook the bowties until just past al dente. Drain. In the same pasta pot or large bowl, toss the noodles with the mushrooms and onions and then add the kasha. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a 2- or 3-quart baking dish. At this point you can cover and refrigerate for a few days before serving. Before serving, preheat an oven to 325°F. Spoon about 1/2 cup of stock or chicken soup (even better is brisket pan juices) over the kasha, cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil, turn up the heat to 375°F. and bake another 15 or 20 minutes, until the top begins to brown. Serve piping hot (or my grandmother would send it back).



Filed under Eat This!, Food for Thought, Recipe Box, Uncategorized

Dining + Design: Watch Andrew Carmellini Chat with Roman & Williams

The second installment of the James Beard Foundation‘s Dining+Design series of talks with The New School took place on Monday, May 22, 2013. The conversation, between JBF Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini of The Dutch and Lafayette and celebrated architects Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, the husband-and-wife team behind Roman and Williams Architects. The conversation was moderated by professor Fabio Parascoli, director of The New School’s food studies program.

On the scenography of restaurant design: “Just like in film, there’s a script, and everyone knows the intentions. And you have to set that scene.”

On messing with convention: “There’s a lot of common thinking…but sometimes you have to erase some of the common knowledge from your head to make a great restaurant.”

On a chef’s dream restaurant vs. reality: “The dream chef restaurant is 40 seats in the middle of a garden only open for dinner time. In  NYC the fiscal reality of that is often different. It’s all about real estate in New York. You have to design and cater to the space that you get. ”

Watch the complete conversation.

The third and final conversation in this series, between me, David Chang and Drew Salmon of Momofuku and Anwar Mekhyeckh of the The Design Agency will be held Monday, June 10. See details. 

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Filed under Beard Bites, Food for Thought, Restaurant Report, Taste Tidbits

Some Food Highlights from My Recent Trip to Paris

Just back from France and up early from jet lag, so I thought I’d jot down some of the culinary highlights of the trip. We had about 4 days in Paris that bookended a week in the Dordogne. I did most of the cooking in the Dordogne, as we were staying in a beautiful home overlooking the valley with not one but two kitchens. Shopping in French country markets, cooking for a group of food lovers is really paradise for me. But not much to share, besides a few recipes it would be hard to repeat.

With only a few days, in Paris we wandered the streets like fish swimming from food source to food source. The first night we arrived in Paris we were back in the ample, accommodating and very reasonable Hotel de Sèvres, in a great location on the left bank (1 block from La Grand Epicerie at the Bon Marché, which I always visit no matter where I’m staying). On the way home from the Périgord, we spent two nights in a lovely apartment through AirBNB  in the 3rd arrondissement, on the border of the 11th. It was a great location in the center of a dynamic neighborhood, teaming with new, creative shops, designers, galleries, restaurants and food shops. I’d highly recommend it. We enjoyed exploring what seemed to us to be the Brooklyn of Paris, with all the excitement and style, and within walking distance to the Louvre and almost everything y0u want to see.

Some trends we noted were les cupcakes sont arrivés, mon dieu!. Baby choux creams have taken over the pastry shops, and with too much fondant and soggy pâte à choux, they weren’t very good (I prefer them in Japan). There’s been a slew of  one-item stores that have opened up selling jams, olive oils, teas, and other specialties. Despite France’s recession, Paris seemed lively and dynamic. We had a great, delicious time, comme d’habitude. 

My recommendations appear after the mosaic of photos.

Restaurant Jadis
208 rue de la croix Nivert, 75015
A charming bistrot which reaches back into French culinary traditions to present a contemporary and very satisfying meal. (Nate’s first frogs’ legs were enjoyed here.) It’s a little out of the way, but worth the trek. It’s so off the beaten path the owner asked how we found it. (Thanks for the tip Art of Eating.) We were glad we did.

6 rue Bailleul, 75001
Daniel Rose is an American chef working in Paris who has created a sensation for his simple, elegant, satisfying, seasonal cooking at Spring. His newer location has a whopping 40 seats, so you stand a chance of getting it. It is convenient, just off the Rue du Rivoli, and worth a visit.

La Chambre Aux Confitures
60 rue du Vielle Temple, 75003
We stumbled into this shop because of the crowd that was standing around tasting jams. Just 2 years old, this shop was fun and exciting. The flavors of jams and honeys and chutneys and chocolats fondants was staggering. You can taste them all, box them up and give them as gifts. Although there is and always will be a special place in my heart for Christine Ferber, Lise Bienaimé has created something noteworthy.

La République Pâtissière
57 rue de Saintonge, 75003
Another shop we wandered into, this is actually a pastry cooperative, a retail space shared by four creative, young pastry chefs, who also share a production kitchen in another location. The four are B[n]S Kitchen, L’Angelique, Mademoisselle Proust, and Choo. The shop was lovely, as was the staff. Pretty tasty stuff, too. Particularly surprised by how delicious the mustard collection of macarons was (violet moutarde de Brive, Coleman’s and wasabi flavors).

16 rue Elzévir, 75003
Another stumble-on, this beautiful, faux-marble chocolate and sweet shop drew us in. Though we didn’t totally love all the chocolates, we did love the baked goods, which included a palet de chocolat and palet dames (together, like a black and white cookie, only better) , a superb financier au chocolate, and a picture-perfect and delicious brioche (which we brought home with us.)

La Grande Epicerie de Bon Marché
28 rue de Sèvres, 75007
I always come here when I’m in Paris to check out the selection of items from around the country and around the world. They also have the best price on Christine Ferber’s jams, though the selection of flavors is somewhat limited.

Pierre Hermé
72 rue Bonaparte, 75006
Even though we did a taste test this time with like items from Ladurée, and some of Hermé’s lost, I still love this shop and manage to arrive there somehow at least once a day (sometimes that’s because Nate is navigating). His current “fetish” this time was St. Honoré, and we had classique, chocolate, and lemon, which we loved.

Marché des Enfants Rouges
39 rue de Bretagne, 75003
A fun, covered market with cheap and delicious ethnic eats (Tunisian, Lebanese, Asian) and shops. It was great to walk through. Young, trendy clientele. Hope to come back with more time to explore more. There’s a lovely Provencal olive oil shop there, too, that had some great oils and other products.

Marché Bastille Richard Lenoir
Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 75001
Sunday mornings it’s a must to go to this lively street market, considered the largest in Paris, with a terrific selection of produce of all kinds, from meats and cheeses, to vegetables, fish, Italian items, and specialties from southwest France. The seafood at Lorenzo (at the top of the market) is unmatched in quality. Since most restaurants are closed Sunday nights, we picked up a superb picnic and made dinner ourselves.

5 rue Villedo, 75001
Coffee’s third wave has hit Paris in this charming shop in the vicinity of the Bourse. It feels a lot like Brooklyn or Portland in there, only the style of the staff and guests is a little better. The slow pace is the same. And the coffee is excellent. We never managed to get to The Broken Arm in our neighborhood when it was open, but we had high hopes for it, too. Next time, for sure.


Filed under Food for Thought, Restaurant Report, Shop Talk, Travel Log, Uncategorized

More Talk with Great Chefs, Designers and Others: Join Me at these Upcoming Events

Spring has sprung and so has the season for conversations with great chefs and other experts engaged in making cuisine a culturally resonant  art form. Join me for these upcoming talks with great chefs, designers, architects, ethicists, and others working to improve and elevate our experience of eating. Mark your calendars!

calendar_icon2May 31, noon
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival
Trust: In Our Restaurants and in Our Food System

A conversation about the importance and role of trust drawn from the theme of the 2012 JBF Food Conference. With JBF Award Winners Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia and Star Provisions and Linton Hopkins of Eugene, plus Karen Karp of Karp Resources and ethicist Paul Root Wolpe of Emory University.

June 6, 6:30 pm
American Museum of Natural History
Adventures in the Global Kitchen: Exotic Flavors in Fine Dining
A conversation and tasting about the many immigrant influences on NY cuisine with JBF Award Winners Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park and NoMad.

June 10, 6 pm
The New School
Dining + Design: Conversations with Chefs & their Designers
An exploration of the relationship of food and design with JBF Award Winner David Chang and business partner Drew Salmon of Momofuku and designer Anwar Mekhayech of The Design Agency.

June 19, 6:30 pm
The Tenement Museum
Cooking Italian in Today’s NYC
Conversation with JBF Award Nominees Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties, and Parm

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Filed under Food for Thought, Shop Talk, Taste Tidbits, Uncategorized

Talking Food and Design with the Team Behind Blue Hill and Stone Barns


Dan Barber, Mitchell Davis, Laureen Barber, Susan Ungaro, Peter Guzy, and Fabio Parasecoli (Photo by Clay Williams)

JBF Award winning chef Dan Barber, his sister-in-law and Blue Hill creative director, Laureen Barber, and JBF Award–nominated architect Peter Guzy gathered at the New School on April 22 for a conversation about the relationship between dining and design. Moderated by myself, the conversation was the first installment of Dining + Design, a joint series between the James Beard Foundation and the New School. (You can watch the panel here.) Guzy, who designed both the diminutive original Blue Hill on Washington Place in Manhattan and the stately Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County’s Pocantico Hills, explained how the successful architecture of a restaurant is an extension of the narrative of the cuisine.

Citing an essay in Eating Architecture by professor Marco Frascari,… read more on the JBF blog…

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I’m Not Bluffing: The Inn at Palmetto Bluff in Bon Appétit

photo 1 How happy was I to be asked to write about the Inn at Palmetto Bluff for the current issue of Bon Appétit, which ranks seventh on the magazine’s list of the country’s best resorts for food lovers? You can read the Bon App report here. The image that appeared was of the resort’s annual Music to Your Mouth Festival. What’s missing, though, are photos of the incredible food you can enjoy in that amazing setting. Here’s a slide show of images I took during a visit last year. Of course, to really know how delicious the food is and how beautiful the place is, you’ll just have to go experience it for yourself.



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Filed under Eat This!, Food for Thought, Looks Good Enough to Eat, Travel Log

Taste Matters: Urvashi Rangan of Consumers’ Union

Urvashi Rangan on Taste Matters

Buying natural, sustainable, and healthy food has become increasingly confusing in our hyper-marketed world. On Wednesday’s powerful episode of Taste Matters, I got some straight facts from Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Center operated by Consumer Reports. Learn all about the truth behind “natural” labels, the dangers of food marketing, and the growing problem of “green noise” by clicking here.

You can catch Taste Matters with Mitchell Davis live every Wednesday at 11:00 A.M. on Heritage Radio Network, or listen to the show afterwards right here on our blog. To check out past episodes, click here. Stay tuned for more!

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