Goods for Cooks

This post originally appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times on April 5, 2006

 

Mostarda_106I think
it’s fair to say I would never have become a serious cook without the friendly
handholding of Goods for Cooks, the venerable kitchen supply store on the west
side of the courthouse square.

Despite multiple
changes in location and multiple owners, Goods has been my go-to place for food
lore and equipment – excellent cooking classes to learn the fundamentals of
exotic cuisines, essential cooking tools (where else did I go when a recipe
called for an oyster knife or a mandoline?) and just plain good advice.

What I haven’t
really gone to Goods for until recently was food. They have carried it, of
course – chocolate truffles, mustards, jams, coffees and other culinary treats
that were interesting to look at but seemed nonessential and pricey. More
recently, however, under the new ownership (since Sept. 1) of Andrew and
Charlotte Appel, the Goods’ edible offerings have gotten more tempting.

A recent shopping
trip netted me a gorgeous pink champagne vinegar, which tasted delicate and
vinegary and, believe it or not, pink. I also bought a jar of
“Peppadew” whole sweet peppers pickled according to what the label
claims is a secret recipe. They were great – sweet and hot at the same time,
and a vibrant orange red that is stunning in salads or on an antipasto plate.

I have always
thought that having a shop that sold specialty food items would be incredibly
fun, mostly because I thought you’d get to taste everything, but when I asked
Andrew how they decide what products to sell the answer was a little more
complicated. Sometimes they taste the foods in advance of ordering them, but
they also rely on their own previous experience and on the descriptions in food
catalogs. Then they assemble a tasting panel to give them feedback on what
they’ve stocked.

To give me an idea
of how it works, he invited me to a tasting panel session, designed to evaluate
several products from an Italian food import company called Manicaretti. The
goal of the panel was to decide if Goods should continue to carry the products,
if they are too high-priced and if a better product can be bought more cheaply
locally, or even made at home.

We tasted five
products: an expensive olive oil and saba (were they worth it?), a cherry
mostarda and a tangerine agrumato (were they better than homemade?), and some
polenta (was the expensive import better than the locally available brand?)

The results were
surprising. The olive oil was in fact worth the $32 price tag. Peppery fresh
and grassy, it tasted “like a tomato plant smells,” said Charlotte.  Absolutely
delicious.

The saba (a
balsamic-like syrup) was good too – deep, pruny and very sweet on a vanilla
panna cotta.

But the agrumato,
made from pressing citrus fruit together with olives and drizzled on steamed
broccoli, blew me away. Andrew’s homemade version paled next to the heady
tangerine aroma that filled my senses. Cheap at $19.95.

The polenta?

One version, with
buckwheat, was distinctive and good, but the plain version, was surpassed by
the coarser ground product from Bloomingfoods ($1.19/pound instead of the
imported $3.41.)

The most
interesting comparison was the mostarda – a spicy, often fiery Italian fruit
condiment made with mustard. The imported cherry version was jammy and sweet,
and while it was excellent on the panna cotta and would be lovely on ice cream,
it didn’t do much for the pork tenderloin and aged cheeses we tried it with.

What was fabulous
was the version Andrew made from a Mario Batali recipe. Pungent, chewy with
dried cherries and crunchy with mustard seeds, it made the cheeses sing.

In true generosity
of spirit, if not hard-headed salesmanship, Andrew has given me the recipe to
share with you here.

You can see the
array of products we tasted and more at the shop, 117 N. College Ave., or at www.goodsforcooks.com.

Cherry
Mostarda

4 cups sugar

1 bottle red wine

1/4 cup mustard
seeds

1 1/2 cup dried
mustard, slurried

1/4 cup black
pepper

2 quarts pitted
red cherries, or 2 quarts dried cherries

1/2 cup mustard
oil

In a
heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the first five ingredients (sugar through
black pepper). Bring to a boil over high heat. When the mixture boil, reduce
the heat and allow the mixture to simmer gently until it reduces to a
syrup-like consistency. Stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar does not burn
and stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add the cherries
and mustard oil. Stir to mix and continue cooking until the cherries are soft
and breaking into pieces. Cool in an ice bath before serving.

Andrew Appel’s
notes on this recipe:

“The choice
of wine is important since it is the bulk of the liquid. I chose a red from Puglia called Sfida that
is 60 percent Primitivo, 20 percent Sangiovese, and 20 percent Cabernet
Sauvignon. It was about $13.99 at Bloomingfoods. Found the mustard oil at
Sahara Mart. Used dried cherries from Bloomingfoods.

I coarsely crushed
the mustard seed with a mortar & pestle. I think this is important versus
leaving them whole for more punch.

I started with
cracked black pepper and ended up more like coarse ground black pepper using
the mortar & pestle.

It took about 20
minutes to get to a syrup consistency (light syrup since there wasn’t much
liquid to dried cherry volume to begin with). After about 40 minutes of cooking
the cherries I found it too chunky and took 5/8 to 1/2 of it out, spread it on
a board and chopped the cherries with a cook’s knife. Still came out stickier
than intended.”

(From Ristorante
Babbo in New York City)

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