Just a taste
Panel provides a taste of what's coming to the shelves at Goods

by Christine Barbour
H-T food columnist | cbarbour@heraldt.com
April 5, 2006

I 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)