In a town whose worst pork chop might come with a $75 price tag and a perfunctory heirloom vegetable, but whose best tamale might come from a guy in Sunset Park with an Igloo cooler tied to his BMX, it may also come as no surprise that food purveyors like to have as much control over their raw materials as possible. Long suffering menu copy words like fresh and house-made actually still mean something in some places. You know that testa at Babbo? Mario Batali boiled a pig’s head for a very, very long time, instead of buying it from someone else. Less exotically, the mozzarella at many pizza places is still hand-pulled and stretched from steeping hot hotel pans, sometimes twice a day. Meat and fish curing is hardly ever outsourced in restaurants anymore: tour any number of restaurant walk-in refrigerators and you’ll likely find spice-coated and air-dried duck prosciutto, or salmon pastrami suspended from the shelving with butcher twine. When it comes to the home cook, given space constraints and sanitation issues, it seems many food experiments are outside the reach of apartment kitchens, and at the very least, hazard the terms of even the most poorly written lease.
But Gothamist has some good news: You don’t have to boil a pig’s head to have a good time, oh no. To further co-opt the all-true-true words of Jermaine Stewart, you can even make your own cherry wine (ok- cherry vinegar, actually) to drink at home, for the purposes of singing and dancing, all night; whatever you want. At the very least, you’ll be able to dress your salad in the morning. With a minimum of fuss and just a few cubic feet to spare, the average New York apartment can sustain its own miniature Whole Foods. Gothamist has collected a few extreme homemade food suggestions for the fatigued greenmarket shopper, and budding agoraphobic gourmand alike. In either case, food can’t get more local than the cubbyhole behind your roommate’s futon.
So start your stir-fry, and try the venerable Shiitake Mushroom Log. Long the exclusive provenance of nostalgic woodsmen and amateur mycologists, many companies now offer self-contained, mail order blooming mushroom logs that allow apartment dwellers to finally take advantage of the indirect light inside even the most cramped studio. What you receive with a mushroom kit: a log. That’s it. In most cases, a shiitake-bearing log is selected and shipped within a few hours of purchase. Since it is a living organism filled with musroom spawn, the log must be opened within a few days of receipt, otherwise it will die and you won’t get shiitakes. You water the log with non-chlorinated water (Brita works), and tiny mushrooms often sprout within a day, mature in a week or so, and continue to do so thereafter with a minimum of finesse. Presto. The Lost Creek Shiitake Mushroom Farm boasts a solid customer service track record (“Lost Creek has been selling shiitake logs since 1992”). This kit is a good place to start, although Amazon sometimes has some combination deals.
If you’re going to buy only one space-aged kitchen countertop home growing system this year, it should probably be the Aero Garden. Launched officially earlier this month, The Aero Garden is billed as a foolproof, dirt-less, self-contained home system for growing both vegetables and herbs using “aeroponic” technology. Its press release mentions NASA technology and invokes the Hanging Gardens of Bablyon. With a starter price tag of $150, including a set of bulbs, nutrients, and the appliance, it’s sort of difficult to distinguish this product from the vast graveyard of infomercial gadgets, especially considering the emphatic, customer-heavy testimonies on their official site. Happily, this product is no fluke. Aero Grow takes up minimal countertop space, and the company’s seed selection is borderline astounding, including a Japanese Herb Kit (red and green shiso, Nira chives, and cress), and a brand new strawberry kit. But wait, there’s more: Aero Grow has just released a product called the Master Grower’s Component Kit, which allows green and brown-thumbs alike to supply, ahem, their own seeds. Now you know what to do with that tiny envelope of Peruvian black mint seeds your grandmother gave you last year! Micro amaranth shoots can’t be far behind, and they’re most certainly coming to garnish your crabcakes. Richter’s carries a large supply of rare seeds for culinary use.
Admittedly, there’s something suspect to the words homemade and cheese when used together in a sentence (insert no matter how you slice it joke here). While Pakistani string cheese and fresh mozzarella recipes are well within the grasp of the home cook, making traditional style raw milk cheeses in an apartment kitchen isn’t exactly the most highly advised food stunt, and is up there with tightrope walking. Next week, however, Murray’s is offering a participatory class under the watchful eye of cheese-whiz Herve Mons. Twelve lucky participants will descend into subterranean Bleecker Street cheese caves under Murray’s and actually make the stuff, leaving it there to age until it’s ready. While the Mons class is sold out and already has a sizable waitlist, a Murray’s rep informed Gothamist that two upcoming similar classes- with Jasper Hill Farm’s Mateo Keehler, and another with Sprout Creek Farm’s Brent Wasser- are still accepting registrants. Contact Murray’s Cheese for details.
The staff at Williamsburg emporium Marlow and Sons are known for sourcing some of the most exotic and useful pantry items for the home cook. This includes Bronx Bee Honey, collected from 4 hives behind the rectory at St. Augustine’s Church on 167th Street in the South Bronx- an annual yield of about 400 pounds, according to Tom Mylan at Marlow, who adds that Marlow and Sons also procures honey from a producer in Fort Greene. In this day and age where chickens are laying eggs in Red Hook (and possibly Clinton Hill), it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine the apiary supplier Dadant and Sons shipping some large parcels to local zip codes. Bensonhurst Honey, anyone? This $64 DVD covers the basics, and at $250 for a fully assembled starter kit, we’re just asking you to give it some thought, that’s all. No pressure. In the meantime, look to Marlow and Sons for other local foodstuffs, many of which had their start in apartment kitchens.
Marlow and Sons’ Mylan, along with lobster loving co-conspirator A-train, also write a blog called Grocery Guy that at times serves as a frank and funny guide to DIY home food adventures, like curing bacon from scratch, and the proper care and feeding of vinegar mothers. Grocery Guy currently bills itself as “The detective John Munch of bad food writing,” with Mylan pursuing all kinds of esoteric home cooking leads, and reporting his findings. It’s worth a look, if not a permanent browser bookmark, for those who prefer their shiso just picked from the spot between the toaster oven and the coffee maker, or for anyone who ever wished they could collect honey from their rooftop.