It’s Dinner: But Is It Cooking?

What is a meal kit?  A meal kit includes all of the ingredients and recipes to make delicious meals at home.  More than one hundred companies now offer to do the planning, shopping, and prepping, leaving the joy of cooking, and eating, to you.  The United States meal market could grow by as much as five billion dollars over the next decade.

Meal kits are regarded by some as a positive development in cooking culture.  The kits provide ideas and eliminate the need to decide “what’s for dinner?”.  Feedback from customers, especially millennials, is that these kits are teaching them how to cook, so they can feel involved in the kitchen,

Blue Apron is one of the leaders in this category, and the company offers a subscription service with: original recipes weekly (500-800 calories per serving), fresh ingredients (pre-measured to avoid waste) and convenient delivery across the nation (arriving in a refrigerated box).  As a pricing example, Blue Apron offers a 2-Person Plan including 3 recipes per week for a total of $59.94 ($9.99 per serving) or a Family Plan for 4 including 2 recipes per week for a total of $69.92 ($8.74 per serving).

A price point of $9-$10 per meal is a lot of money for most people.  However, some believe the kits are worth the time saved driving/walking to the store and shopping.

The meal kit market gets very specialized at a point.  Fans of Northern California cuisine and chefs can join Sun Basket, and enthusiasts of Georgia farmers and Southern chefs may subscribe to PeachDish.

Meal kits might help to cut down on food waste through pre-portioned ingredients.  According to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, up to thirty-one percent of America’s post-harvest food supply is thrown away.

One complaint about the kits is that too much packaging is used, and besides current recycling methods, there is a hope that one day the insulation will be compostable.

As far as home-cooking trends are concerned, meal kits are at the forefront.  How much staying power will they have?  Time will tell…

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A Better Chocolate Babka

If you are looking to nosh on something, with your coffee, tea or seltzer, might I suggest a slice of babka?

Babka is a sweet loaf, similar to a light textured coffee cake.  Babka is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan.  It starts with a rich, slow-rise dough made with lots of butter, real vanilla, fresh egg yolks, lemon zest, sugar and sea salt.  The dough is rolled around an almond frangipane (made from almonds, almond flour, more vanilla, butter, sugar and eggs), then brushed with dark chocolate and cinnamon sugar.  You can fill a babka with almost anything sweet: chocolate, jam, dulce de leche, homemade ganache, and Nutella to name a few.  The babka is usually scattered with brown sugar streusel.

This pastry is associated with Eastern European Jewish tradition.  The word “babka” is both Polish and Yiddish, deriving from “baba,” meaning grandmother.

Baking a babka requires commitment.  Babkas can take a day or more to make, which includes three and a half hours to bake, and six to twenty-four hours to rise.  Refrigerating the dough in between steps makes it easier to work with, and a longer proofing period gives the loaf a more complex flavor.  Proofing is the final rise of shaped bread dough before baking.

New York bakeries have joined the babka movement.  Bklyn Larder fills its babka with ganache, Sadelle’s creates a chocolate-cookie version and Breads Bakery presents a Nutella loaf.  Baz Bagel even bakes its babka into bread pudding.

Babka freezes very well, making for second servings, and another delicious snack or dessert.

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Restaurants and Bars May Soon Be Permitted to Sell Alcohol Before Noon on Sunday

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Calling the it the “most bizarre, arcane, frustrating, maddening law that you could imagine” Governor Cuomo has proposed new regulations permitting restaurants and bars to sell alcohol before 12 on Sundays. A “hangover” from the Prohibition , the new law will be voted on next month by the legislature and could go into effect soon after.

If approved, booze at brunch (or breakfast even) would be legal across NY state as early as 8am.

The specialty-appointed panel who made the recommendation are part of a task force charged with modernizing state alcohol laws and cutting red tape.

Learn more

 

 

A Return Trip to the Caribbean

Guyana, a country on South America’s North Atlantic coast, is defined by its dense rainforest. The country is English-speaking, with strong traditions of cricket and calypso music, and culturally it’s connected to the Caribbean region.  Angela Pellew-Whyte is a native of Guyana and the chef at Angela’s in Bedford –Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Interestingly, Ms. Pellew-White ran the original Angela’s on the same corner from 1997 to 2004, and after training in the culinary program at the Art Institute of New York City, she returned to the same space to pick up where she had left off.  Ms. Pellew-White draws inspiration from growing up in a household of nine children, where her father prepared feasts for a large, extended family.  While her sisters played with dolls, she cooked.

Caribbean food has been described as bold, full-flavored, aromatic and textured food.  Caribbean food is a fusion of influences that may include plantains, okra and rice from African slaves, stir-fries and soy sauce from Chinese migrant workers, pork in all forms from Spanish colonists, puff pastry from the French and curries delivered with indentured servants from India.

One of Chef Pellew-White’s featured dishes is Guyanese saltfish and bake.  Bake is a type of fried bread that can be eaten with almost anything: jams, jellies, corned beef/mutton, saltfish, even vegetable dishes such as sautéed okra or tomato choka.  Recommended dishes includes codfish sliders, oxtail (the meat is braised and complemented by gravy), curry goat (with scents of cumin and curry), jerk chicken (in a strong marinade), okra (beautifully tender), plantains (soft and warm), rice and peas, and corn with house dressing.  Pricing is moderate.

Angela’s can be found on the corner of Nostrand and Jefferson Avenues, and serves moderately-priced, pan-Caribbean dishes.

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One Sommelier’s Streamlined Vision

Only the well-financed restaurants have the resources to present the best wines.  Most wine-conscious restaurants narrow their visions and choose a style or region in which to concentrate.  The selection complements the cooking and conveys something about the restaurant’s identity.

Freek’s Mill is a new casual restaurant in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and features one of the most narrowly concentrated selections of wine.  However, if you want Beaujolais or a chenin blanc, this restaurant is the place to be; these wines make up about 70% of the bottle inventory.  The wine list was constructed by Alex Alan, the sommelier and a partner in the restaurant.  Mr. Alan said his choices grew out of a draft of the restaurant’s opening menu, which emphasized seasonal vegetables, small plates and a wood-burning oven.

Beaujolais is a French wine generally made of the Gamay grape which has a thin skin and is low in tannins.  Beaujolais tends to be a very light-bodied red wine, with relatively high amounts of acidity.  The wine takes its name from the historical Province of Beaujolais, a wine producing region.  Chenin blanc is a white wine grape variety from the Loire valley of France. Its high acidity means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to well-balanced dessert wines,

Mr. Alan is quoted, “In a perfect world, I want to give customers what they want.  But I also want to teach them something without it feeling like I’m teaching them something.” The author of this article, Eric Asimov, applauds Mr. Alan for choosing wonderful wines that will reward customers who put themselves in his hands.

Here lies the age-old debate: Is a restaurant obligated to give customers what they want by offering something for everybody?  Or can it stay true to a vision?

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Pregnant New Yorkers Not to be Refused

Pregnant women in New York City are now legally entitled to purchase an alcoholic beverage, regardless of how it makes the bartender or patrons feel.  New guidelines based on the city’s Human Rights Law now say that refusing to serve a pregnant woman is discriminatory, and restaurants and bars are explicitly prohibited from refusing mothers-to-be.

Specifically, “While covered entities may attempt to justify certain categorical exclusions based on maternal or fetal safety, using safety as a pretext for discrimination or as a way to reinforce traditional gender norms or stereotypes is unlawful,” said the Commission on Human Rights.

Multiple medical associations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Surgeon General’s Office discourage any alcohol consumption during pregnancy.  And currently, restaurants and bars are required to post signs warning the dangers of alcohol to fetuses.  This new law now has foodservice establishments “stuck in the middle on this one,” noted Robert Bookman, a lawyer with the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

The new law also covers foods such as raw fish and soft cheese.  To read more, click here.

Brooklyn Brewery Joins the Navy Yard

View-1-png.pngBrooklyn Brewery, the borough’s most iconic brewer, originally opened their Williamsburg location in 1996 and helped propel the neighborhood from its downtrodden industrial past to an international destination. But with rents steadily on the rise and showing no signs of slowing, the brewery has been looking for new spaces for several years to move the bulk of their operations once their lease is up in 2025. This weekend they announced that they’ll be following in the footsteps of Russ & Daughters and the Mast Brothers and opening a huge (75,000 square-foot) production facility in the updated Brooklyn Navy Yard under a 40-year lease.

The new facility will include brew space, offices, and a rooftop beer garden and restaurant. The move represents the first time the Brooklyn Brewery will be offering food as well as suds, and chief executive Eric Ottaway promises the menu will be “more than pretzels and bratwursts.” The borough has already committed to $80 million to revamp the Navy Yard’s building 77 as a food hall open to the public. The beer garden there should be open to the public by 2018, and early renderings promise the space will be a major destination for the “foodies” borough president Eric Adams is hoping to attract.

To read more, click here.

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