Valentine’s Day is coming

February 14th is right around the corner, and the restaurants (at least here in NYC) would have you believe that $75 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for three-course meal if you really care about your special someone. But if you're really willing to throw-down that kind of cash on a meal, why not cook at home and do it up right? Let the web be your assistant as you plan the meal of your dreams.

Your fois gras questions can be answered here. Caviar tips and recipes are available here. Manhattan wine store Sherry-Lehmann can set you up with any number of exceptional wines (Champagne, amazing Bordeaux, etc.) and they'll deliver to most states. Buon Italia, in the Chelsea Market, currently has black winter truffles. At $35/oz. it's really a splurge, but they can overnight them to you wherever you are. I know Valentine's Day isn't supposed to be about economics, but you can eat much better food for the price if you stay home and make your own romantic dinner for two.

A cooking column

I'm going to be writing a cooking column for the "new Web magazine about enjoying new media and creating beautiful software," TEKKA. A cooking column in a software magazine? Well, there's an art to programming and to cooking. I'll write for people who code by day and cook by night, or as the publisher said, "Food hackers." Right-on! I can't wait. A TEKKA charter subscription is $50 a year.

Vegetable stock recipe

I've posted my veggie stock recipe for those that are interested in making stock from scratch. Don't be limited by the ingredients I use here. You can always add more based on what you're making (i.e. seeds from a squash if you're making a squash soup, mushrooms if the stock will go in porcini risotto, etc.) I like to keep it simple because I usually don't know what I'll be using the stock for in advance.

Pizza on Earth

Today's Boston Globe Food section features on article, Going from farming to pizzas, about my aunt and uncle's farm and pizza business. "A typical winter menu features pizzas with plain cheese; pepperoni with or without capers; oven-roasted carrots, beets, and potatoes; and potato with bacon and sour cream." Mmmm, sounds delicious. I've yet to try one of their pizzas, though family members that have rave about them. Must get to Vermont ASAP, stomach growling already…

Some things I have learned about cooking over the years

The secret to cooking really good food lies in the quality of your ingredients. I've heard this many times, but I have finally come to believe its absolute truth with my purchase of good quality balsamic vinager ($8 bottle from Buon Italia at the Chelsea Market). It's like I never understood vinaigrette until now. Thank God the movers wouldn't allow me to lug that cheapo balsamic vinager from San Francisco.

Fresh. Always. Fresh ground pepper. Fresh herbs. Fresh seasonings and spices. Have you ever grated fresh nutmeg (it looks like a funny nut) on top of creamy fettucine? It's magical.

Kosher salt for seasoning your water before adding veggies or pasta. Thomas Keller says you should cook veggies in water so briney its salt content resembles that of the ocean. After much experimentation, I concur.

Homemade stock. There is simply no substitute. And homemade veggie stock takes less than an hour to prepare and freezes beautifully. On Sundays I like to make a batch and freeze it in 2 cup quantities.

You'd think I'd have more to share, but that's it, those are my secrets. Quality, seasonal ingredients, as fresh as you can get. That's the difference between so-so food and "Wow! That's the best carmalized onion I've ever tasted!" meals.

Where to eat now 2003

The New York Metro Where to Eat Now 2003 is out and available in New York magazine and online. It would help a lot if one could view the "hot" restaurants by neighborhood but it seems that the layout is restricted to the categories they've defined, and 'by neighborhood' isn't one of them, unless you happen to live on the Upper West Side. Sadly the entire layout of these pages makes this resource less useful than it could be. 3 columns for "The Hot List"? Guh.

Free online wine course

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) offers courses online at www.prochef.com. If you've got some time on your hands over the Christmas holiday, perhaps you'd like to enroll in one of their free courses? They're offering A Taste of Wine Online ("a close look at three of the world's classic wine grape varietals"), The Professional Chef Discovers Contemporary Flavors with California Raisins (taught by my fav Thomas Keller!), and The Professional Chef Discovers California Cheese ("an exploration of cheese that promises to be at once serious, timely and above all enjoyable"). Not only are these classes free, you can also earn credit for them. I know how I'm going to spend some weekend time once I'm done with all this unpacking…

US does it better

Having sampled many many many salad ni├žoises both at home and in Paris, I can say without a doubt that American chefs have elevated this salad to a gastronmic height unachieved in Continental lands. Their substitution of seared tuna for plain-old canned fish provides a Gladwellian salad tipping point, and moves this humble dish of tuna, lettuce, beans, potatoes, eggs, and olives into the realm of culinary magnificence.

The Wedding Cake

I haven't had the time to write-up my experience making a wedding cake for my friends Lane and Courtney's wedding but I've finally found a photo of it to which I can point you: the wedding cake in action. Outside is rolled fondant, inside is Red Velvet cake. And when I say red, I mean red. For a first wedding cake, I don't think it turned out too badly. But I'm not sure I'm up for doing another wedding cake, at least not anytime soon!