Tag Archive | "cooking"

It’s not the chocolate chip cookie your grandma made


Cookies at Rubyzaar (Photo: Winnie Andrews)Chocolate chip cookies are about as traditional as you can get, but throw in some unexpected ingredients and the result is an unexpected twist on the classic.

Two Brooklyn based sisters are doing just that: Molly and Sarah Rubin decided to update the chocolate chip cookie with ingredients like Earl Grey tea and pretzels, and are intriguing customers with their concoctions.

The sisters’ idea was to incorporate their favorite flavors from around the world in the traditional cookie.  Their Golden Triangle cookie has coconut, mango, toasted rice and dark chocolate and was inspired by the sister’s love for sticky rice with mangoes from Thailand.  Another cookie option, called “Ambrosia,” has Mediterranean ingredients such as fig, pear, sage, roast walnut and creamed honey.

Last December the Rubin sisters started selling cookies at the Union Square Holiday market. The treats are back again this year at their retail stand, called Rubyzaar, which can be found online and at various retail festivals throughout the year.

Shannon Stanczak, a personal trainer, is a regular at the Holiday stand and a fan of the updated cookie. Stanczak said the cookies are chewy and buttery. The first bite tastes like the original, but then the other flavors kick in and it’s a whole new cookie, she said. One of her favorites is inspired by tastes of Colonial India and is flavored by tea and has earl grey, smoked almonds and dark chocolate. “It invigorates and wakes up your mouth,” she said.

The new combinations of taste-bud teasers tempt those who come looking for the basic cookie. Julie Rosenberg, one of the many holiday shoppers, was swayed by the allure of the NY Pretzel cookie with large chunks of chewy pretzel. “I had wanted the regular chocolate chip,” she said handing her eight-year-old daughter the updated pretzel version, “but I thought, OK, let’s push ourselves and try something different.”

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Food inspires personal expression


The Holiday Turkey Project from caroline shin on Vimeo.

A love for food can certainly inspire culinary creations. But it’s the creators who sprinkle in a dash of their personal style to their food.

By tailoring their love to who they are, food-lovers find interesting and sometimes untraditional ways of using food. Their concoctions can hinge on anything from technology — a la chef technologist Dave Arnold — to art — from painter Will Cotton — to, well, food for the sake of food — via home chef Jeffrey Babb.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Arnold rushed the six blocks — in his characteristic mile-a-minute manner — from the French Culinary Institute in SoHo to DiPalo’s in Little Italy to get his hands on eight pounds of “the best lamb sausages.” He would be making his Scotch eggs, sausage-wrapped eggs, his special way: Some minutes in the immersion circulator and a couple of drops of nitrogen oxide.

After catching a whiff of Arnold’s scientific methodology, Salvador DiPalo, 51, a fourth-generation worker at the famed mom-and-pop shop, went off on a mini-tirade. “Why do you take the love out of the food?” “Food science,” he spat out. “It sounds nonromantic.”

“You’re breaking my balls over here,” said Arnold, 38, director of culinary technology at FCI and frequent shopper, with slicked-black hair and a gap-toothed smile.

DiPalo then leaned over and said: “I’ll tell you the truth, Dave’s one of those people who has the most love for food. He wants to take it a step further, create a new dish, a new love. Dave wants to try it all.”

The perfectionist scientist, Arnold has had an innate technological bent — borne from the days his father would leave electrical engineering equipment lying around their house in the Upper West Side and his doctor mother would throw special dinner parties. He has matched his scientific curiosity to his passion for food.

“I’ve been into food my whole life,” he said. “I love all food.”

During his Yale undergraduate years, he made his own whiskey sours and a hot tub that ran on shower water. Arnold’s wife and college sweetheart, Jennifer Carpenter, 37, recalled his crazy “whiskey sour hot tub parties,” and said “they were really fun.”

He built the first circulators for low-temperature cooking at Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50, infused gin and vermouth into a cucumber for an edible martini, and purchased a 500,000-BTU torch for some idea that will pop up. As it usually does.

At Columbia University School of the Arts, he gained some notoriety and appeared in the New York Times in 1997 for an art project in which he killed a frog to mechanize a robot with its muscles — a “Frankenstein” that predated his most recent project, a Thanksgiving “Franken-turkey.”

For Thanksgiving, Arnold prepared a deboned turkey stuffed with an aluminum skeleton and cooked from the inside out at low temperatures. He wanted to produce “the perfect turkey” that would be evenly cooked and juicy. He had discovered, after a series of experiments, that different parts of poultry have different cooking temperatures and times. This was the basis for his “Franken-turkey,” which lay wired and strapped up outside his office-laboratory to eye-popping stares and second glances.

Carpenter said: “It was the best turkey I have ever had. It was perfectly moist and tender throughout.”

The attention to scientific cooking — better known as “molecular gastronomy” by the public, to the cringing of insiders, since all cooking involves molecular changes — has been on the rise for the past couple of decades. In 1984, Harold McGee published “On Food and Cooking,” in which he gave scientific answers to practical questions. And in the 1990s, a number of young prominent chefs — triple Michelin award winners Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain and Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in England — began to apply McGee’s scientific approach in the kitchen, according to The Economist.

Recently, the National Restaurant Association released the hottest trends for 2010, from a survey of 1,800 professional chefs. It seems that science is here to stay. In the category of food preparation methods, liquid nitrogen for freezing and chilling and sous vide, or “boil-in-a-bag” cooking, ranked at the top. The scientific knowledge may extend even beyond the restaurant and into the home kitchen, with the launch of the Sous Vide Supreme, which costs $449.

IMG_0211Food has also been crossing paths with art as well. On the last three Sundays of November, food artist Will Cotton held his pop-up shop of baked goods at Partners & Spade, a quirky bookstore and gallery space in SoHo. From the doorway, a massive painting — easily mistaken for a photograph — of a voluptuous nude woman immersed in luxurious pink cotton candy clouds, was clearly visible. Those who entered passed a pogo stick and a motorcycle and were greeted with the smell of a certain sweetness of baking. Finally, there was Cotton, fair-haired and reserved, overseeing the frosting on the burner. It was sweetness all around.

Cotton said that Andy Spade, in August, had requested a contribution “not appropriate for a gallery setting.” He thought, “Baking installation!”

“I got really interested in how smell and taste can complement a visual experience,” he said. For his opening day, he made 600 pastries, including 350 macarons, 20 pear tartlets, 24 chocolate raspberry cakes and three big cakes. He brought macaron flavors including vanilla pink peppercorn and salted caramel.

The Massachusetts native and Cooper Union graduate, Cotton is known for his juxtaposition of nude women and colorful confections. He says he uses sweets as “a metaphor for desire,” and arranges them as landscapes in his paintings, drawings and sculpture. Think Candyland for adults.

“I love candy,” he said quietly, and admitted that his sweet tooth is connected to his art work. “Certainly, that’s a part of it.”

IMG_0263He has painted a woman wearing a pouf of ribbon candy ringlets; drawn a lady with a swirl of an ice cream cone atop her head; and sculpted a five-foot stack of large cakes that tip over onto one other. He has a professional oven in his studio and he bakes nearly all of his confectionery landscapes. He admitted that he goes to the gym twice a week and yoga once a week “to be able to keep eating” his desserts.

For “Cotton Candy Sky,” the oil painting on the gallery’s back wall, Cotton had made batches of pink cotton candy. He posed his model on a pink bed sheet, and looked to the actual cotton candy for the details in his painting.

Misha Votruba, 44, came in with his wife and children, who were so curious about all the different treats and earnestly looked at each one—at least those that were up to their eye-level. For others that were placed a bit higher, Votruba picked them up, and the whole family ordered their sweets of choice. Votruba bit into the carrot cupcake. “It is out of this world,” he said.

IMG_0220Depictions of food in art have been around for centuries: from the paintings of lavish banquets by Willem Kalf during the Renaissance to portrayals of fruits by Paul Cezanne in the late 1800s to the famous Campbell’s soup cans by pop artist Andy Warhol in the 60s. The blog EatMeDaily.com, presents a fascinating array of current contributions to food art. It features Mike Geno’s bacon Christmas tree postcards, Jennifer Rubell’s edible donut installation and Timothy Thompson’s aluminum cupcakes.

In a much more private setting, Jeffrey Babb, 29, media relations associate at Macy’s, cooks for himself five nights a week. Cooking, for him, is  relaxation. “It’s the equivalent of some people’s five-mile run,” he said. “I just make it part of my day.”

His forte is barbecue, which he learned from his father, a seven-time winner at his county barbecue championship in Texas. His father had also won some awards at the Houston Livestock Show and the Rodeo Cook-off, one of the largest in the state. And he takes tips from wherever he can get them: Food Network, Web sites, friends.

From Dave Chang of Momofuku fame, Babb learned smoke water—the end product of smoking water along with meat to pick up the flavor without actually touching meat. “Smoke water is the new fried chicken,” He said. He also smokes Coca-Cola for a whiskey drink called the Waylon.

A few months ago, he was hit with a homemade bacon craving. He went to Chinatown, bought pork belly, seasoned and cured it for seven days, and cooked it. “Turned out to be the next-level bacon,” he said.

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Christine Collins: The Food Obstructions II champion

The Food Obstructions Cook Off Poster!

The Food Obstructions Cook Off Poster!


Christine Collins won the second Food Obstructions challenge on Sunday, Dec. 6th at The Gutter in Brooklyn.  Her winning entry was Spicy Filipino Beef Brisket served with Rosemary Potato Pancakes.  It was her second consecutive win.

The Food Obstructions Challenge is a food cookoff inspired by the 2003 Lars von Trier movie “The Five Obstructions.”  In the movie, von Trier challenges director Jorgen Leth to recreate one of his movies five times, each time adhering to a different creative obstacle.

Von Trier is an avante-garde art-house filmmaker, which perhaps explains his appeal among the young, white, trendy crowd gathered at The Gutter.  He is known for such luminous innovations as the use of unsimulated sex in his ostensibly non-pornographic fare  (eventually, however, he went for the full monty and began producing hardcore pornography).

Christine Collins smiles while Atticus stands next to her.

Champion Christine Collins smiles while Atticus stands next to her.

What the existence of von Trier meant for Christine Collins, however, was that she was forced to make her spicy Filipino beef brisket while adhering to the following obstructions:

1.  It had to include an ingredient that begins with the letter “K.”
2.  It had to contain rosemary.
3.  It had to include an ingredient with seeds.
4.  It could not contain butter.
5.  It had to contain an ingredient produced or grown in Brooklyn.

Collins went with Ketchup for her “K” ingredient.  (Thankfully the alternative spelling “Catsup” is going out of style.)  The rosemary was used to flavor the potato pancakes. Presumably, an ingredient with seeds was included at one point, along with an ingredient from Brooklyn, and, finally, the dish did not contain butter.  In short, Collins qualified.  For her winning effort she took home $100, which she accepted with the following speech:

“Thanks, Everybooddddyyyyy!  I don’t know – I guess I’d like to thank my mom, for being from the Philippines – she told me to use ketchup when cooking meat, so, there you go!”

Boxer Manny Pacquiao is Filipino

Boxer Manny Pacquiao is Filipino

Collins is half Filipino, which accounts for her dark hair and allure.  Afterward she stood outside The Gutter with her boyfriend Atticus, who is an acrobat, and smoked a cigarette.  Atticus remarked that he would like to be in the movies one day, in a role that required him to hang off a cliff.  He has also thought about joining the circus, but “I met Christine and she hates carnival folk,” he explained.  “I try to tell her, it’s not like what you see in the movies in the 1920s…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Collins remarked

“She doesn’t want to talk about it,” Atticus said.

Collins is now the two-time reigning champion of The Food Obstructions.  She speculates that along with the recent emergence of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao (who is the current WBO World welterweight champion, and perhaps the best pound-for-pound boxer alive today), her emergence as a champion food cooker may signal the coming ascendancy of the Filipino people. Or not.

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Traditional cooking, updated

Mavel Vanetes, left and Massiel Soto, right, eat at a hands-on cooking class in BrooklynBy WINNIE ANDREWS

Alicia Baez is making a stuffed avocado dish she learned back in Mexico. But this time she is leaving out the salt and replacing the fresh shrimp with canned tuna. It isn’t the traditional version, but that is intentional.  She is making them with less sodium and more economical ingredients.

The goal is to make what you like, but reduce sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, and increase the amount of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Baez and several other mothers signed up for a free eight-week nutrition class at the New Life Head Start preschool in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The hands-on class is one of many nutrition courses that encourage making familiar foods in healthier ways.

The thinking here is that people are more likely to eat healthfully if they can stick to a version of foods they are used to.  Nutrition cooking classes like this across the country respond to the needs of populations with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

To make her dish, Baez cuts shining green avocados in half and fills each one with a mound of chopped tomato and tuna. She is making them at the last day of her class when participants can bring in dishes they enjoy, modifying them according to what they have learned.

Sonia Delvalle is teaching the nutrition and cooking class in Bushwick as part of a Cornell University program designed to help low-income families improve their eating habits. The five Hispanic mothers in her afternoon class gather for two hours a week not only to cook and learn nutritional facts but also to share information and try new exercise techniques. Two women have brought their small children, and the babies sleep peacefully in the mothers’ arms while one small boy joins the women as they exercise to Latin music and tries to eat the tacos, stuffed avocados and salad with a fork.

Spanish is the primary language of the class, and Delvalle only switches to English if there is someone who doesn’t speak Spanish in the room. During class, the women share information about foods from their respective countries. They talk about how to make a traditional Dominican drink called “Morir soñando”  (”to die dreaming”) more healthy by replacing evaporated milk with low-fat milk.  One woman brought in rolled tacos she made in Mexico, but this time with low-sodium cheese.

Delvalle stressed that healthy eating doesn’t mean overspending on organic food or drastically changing diet. Nutrition is all around, she said, it’s just a matter of using it in ways you like. She encouraged the mothers to buy fruits and vegetables, either fresh or in a can, and to put them in their favorite dishes. During the course, she handed out a recipe for quesadillas with low sodium cheese and broccoli, and a corn salad. Delvalle also reminded the women to wash the sodium off canned foods, and that juice was a good alternative to soda. “A 12 oz soda can has 10 teaspoons of sugar” she said.

Stuffed avocado from the healthy eating cooking class at Head Start preschool, in Bushwick Brooklyn

Compared to white Americans, African-American populations have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics a 21 percent higher prevalence, according to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These two demographic groups are at a higher genetic risk for adult onset diabetes as well; 11.8 percent of African-Americans and 10.4 percent of Hispanics over the age of 20 are diagnosed with diabetes compared with 6.6 percent of white Americans, according to 2004-2006 national survey data compiled by the CDC.

Obesity puts an individual at a higher risk for diabetes, and diabetes is further exacerbated by unhealthy eating. People with excess body fat around their waist — especially those who have an apple shaped body outline rather than a pear shape – can become insulin resistant. Diabetes prevents insulin from efficiently converting sugar in the blood into energy. This is particularly a problem for foods that raise the sugar level in the blood quickly, such as white bread and sugary sweets. Over time, diabetes results in damaged blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure also increases the risk for these same cardiovascular complications, so high sodium intake is also discouraged for those with diabetes.

Bringing people from similar cultural groups together over food can help them feel supported and share information. Dr.Carol Horowitz, a physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in East Harlem, developed Help Educate to Eliminate Diabetes (HEED), community workshops that help people with pre-diabetes reduce their weight.

“Rather than us stereotyping a culture, we let people speak for themselves, creating a safe environment to tackle their biggest challenges,” said Dr. Horowitz through an e-mail. People lost weight and kept it off in HEED’s pilot workshops said Kasey Coyne, a research assistant at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The program teaches moderation rather than focusing on avoiding certain foods.

Dr. Catherine Vigran, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, in Sacramento, Calif. said healthy eating “doesn’t have to be a message of self-denial. It’s about showing people that there is some possibility for change.” Dr. Vigran helped develop a Family Cooking Club in 2008 when she realized there was a need for nutrition classes for the Spanish-speaking parents of her patients.

Sonia Delvalle, center, teaches exercises at a healthy eating class at Head Start

The Noelli Center, a patient education program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, held its first healthy soul food cooking class in October. The workshop, called Heart and Soul, targeted people looking to lose weight, with early diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants talked about nutrition and ate traditional soul foods such as collard greens, cabbage, and fried fish, prepared with less sodium, fat and cholesterol. They were also given recipes on how to make the dishes at home.

Dr. Asha Isable, who opened the Noelli Center this fall, takes the proactive approach when it comes to obesity and diabetes in her patients. “Most disease is preventable, so that is what needs to be addressed,” she said. The center focuses on providing health education for young professionals and college students of color, a demographic that Isable said is often overlooked by other nutrition programs that target low-income groups.

Dr. Isable said teaching people in their 20s and 30s nutrition is important because that is when they develop the eating and lifestyle habits they will carry with them through life and pass on to their children. She created the soul food nutrition events as a way for young professionals to socialize while learning to improve their diets.

Others are finding new ways to cook soul food as well. Evalina Irish Spencer is the training specialist for the nutrition branch of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension in Manhattan. She suggested substituting some of the white flour in cornbread for whole flour. And for dishes like collard greens, “try not to cook the greens until they look like a lump,” she said, “try to cook them so they remain crisp and green.” In many health recipes, collard greens are cooked with turkey neck or olive oil rather than fat back from a pig to reduce the sodium and fat content.

Especially inventive recipes are able to turn infamous dishes like fried chicken into a nutritious meal. Lindsey Williams, author of “Neo-Soul, Taking Soul Food to a Whole ‘Notha Level,” suggests coating chicken in yoghurt and then rolling it in Rice Crispies and oregano to give it a crunch before popping it in the oven. It’s like fried chicken without the grease, he said.

Another alternative suggested by many nutritionists is replacing salt with fresh herbs. This reduces sodium and increases flavor. Gina Puzzanghera suggests this to the students in her cooking classes in East Harlem, where 62 percent of the population is overweight or obese. The area also has the densest concentration of diabetes of any area in New York City.

Puzzanghera opened Nourishing Kitchen, a small nutritionally based soup kitchen, in 2007 and currently teaches people of all ages healthy cooking.  As she oversaw the preparation of jerk chicken for the week’s free hot meal, Puzzanghera explained that she never uses white flour or white sugar in her recipes. “It’s great to give people food that won’t give people a diabetic seizure,” she said.

Irish-Spencer, the nutritionist from Cornell, said that food plays an important factor in feeling connected to a culture. Cuisine can also play a role in understanding other cultures, she said. Irish-Spencer is particularly excited about cooking classes with people from mixed cultural backgrounds. She points to the love of mangos in Caribbean cultures, and how it’s fun for people to realize that mangos actually come from China. “We think we are so different,” Irish Spencer said, “but we can share and enjoy other people’s foods.” The Hispanic women at the Head Start class in Brooklyn all had the same favorite dish: healthy Chinese fried rice.

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Author on avoiding dinner battles

Michelle Maisto (Photo: Michelle Maisto)


Michelle Maisto is a self described food lover. She likes eating, cooking and writing about food. So when she got engaged to her food-loving boyfriend, the dinner table was the last place Maisto expected to encounter relationship problems. But after moving in together, what had once been a pleasurable activity became a nightly battleground for cultural identity, division of labor and food preferences.

Maisto began recording everything she and her fiance ate for a year to try to analyze the problem. Those notes turned into Maisto’s first book, “The Gastronomy of Marriage – A Memoir of Food and Love,” which came out last week.

Maisto is a petite, dark-haired woman in her early thirties who grew up in New Jersey. She now lives with her husband Richard Chang in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She is a freelance writer and does food writing on the side.

Maisto met her husband 11 years ago while living and working in Los Angeles. Common interests helped draw the two together; they both loved writing and food. On one of their first dates, one of the things that most impressed Maisto was Chang’s instinct to order a specially offered soufflé, despite the extra wait.

“Food was such a fun part of our courtship. I never thought it would be an issue,” said Maisto.

But it was. After getting engaged the couple decided to move in together in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That’s when the question of what to cook for dinner started creating nightly gridlock.

“It was relentless!” said Maisto. “Within the context of our home, food became a big problem for us,” she said.

Maisto began to wonder if this was a warning sign for deeper troubles.

“It was like, man! This is such a stupid thing and we’re having trouble with this!” she said.

There were several road blocks. Chang liked meat. Maisto was a vegetarian. He preferred lighter options like steamed fish. She loved rich, Italian pasta dishes.

The Gastronomy of Marriage, A Memoir of Food and Love by Michelle Maisto

And then there was the question of who would cook. When Chang took on extra freelancing work to pay for their upcoming wedding, Maisto agreed to do most of the meals. Despite enjoying cooking, this arrangement conflicted with Maisto’s desire to feel like a modern couple.

Many food issues arose from cultural differences. Maisto came from an Italian family and Chang from a Chinese one. For both, meals were a way to hold onto culture.

“We were both just trying to put a stake in the ground for our identities,”said Maisto.

Though Maisto chose to live with her meat-eating boyfriend despite being vegetarian, others prefer to live and date only people with the same dietary preferences. Jason Das, a vegan and the founder of the Web site SuperVegan, prefers dating fellow vegans.

“It’s simpler,” he said.

Das became vegan seven years ago. He prefers having a vegan-only kitchen, which makes living with a non vegan difficult.

Rynn Berry is an author of six books about vegetarian, vegan and raw diets. He is a rawfoodist and eats mostly fruit. Berry said he only dates vegans because he doesn’t want any physical contact with someone who eats meat.

Berry said being a fruitologist eliminates many food preparation issues because there is no cooking involved.

“One of the great appeals of being a fruitologist is that both men and women are emancipating, there’s no dish washing, no scrubbing of pots,” he said.

For Maisto and her husband the dinner table conflicts have subsided over time. Maisto now adds meat only to her husband’s portion of the meal while keeping her own vegetarian. A repertoire of quick dishes they both enjoy – like frittata, fried rice and risotto – also helps reduce the dinner-time stress.

Maisto said the key to a couple’s success at the dinner table is “being open to eating different things and to looking at eating as an adventure.”

For Maisto, the initial struggle to eat with her husband resulted in “The Gastronomy of Marriage” rather than the end of marriage. After five years of living and eating together at the same table, the question of what’s for dinner is no longer so combative.

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Home cooking more popular during the recession

appliancesfinalBy WINNIE ANDREWS

Angelina Russo has an economizing strategy that includes buying pre-made cupcake mix.

“Cupcakes at Magnolia are $2.50 to $3 apiece so it’s a lot cheaper,” Russo says. Russo is comparing prices of cupcakes from the popular Manhattan shop to those she could bake from mix at the Madison Avenue Crate and Barrel. The box of coconut cupcake mix makes 10 cupcakes and costs $10.95. She notes that the same price would buy only four cupcakes at Magnolia.

Russo is cooking more and going out less because of the recession, she said. She is a home attendant for the elderly and lives with her husband and their 19-year-old daughter in New York City. Before the economic crisis, Russo, 40, ate out one or two times per week. Now, she eats in restaurants only one time every two weeks.

Like Russo, many Americans are eating in to save money. This year, 52 percent of restaurant goers aren’t eating out as often as last year, while 42 percent are eating in cheaper restaurants, according to a Zagat survey released in early October. The same survey indicates that 21 percent of restaurant eaters aren’t ordering extras such as appetizers and desserts.

The shift towards eating at home might inspire consumers to buy more ladles, food processors and wine racks. Kitchen appliances will be one of the few consumer goods that fare well during this holiday season, according to predictions by the marketing information company Nielsen. This would be one of the exceptions to otherwise sluggish holiday spending; Nielsen predicts that eighty-five percent of American households will either maintain or reduce their holiday spending from last year.

Cooking utensiles at Crate and Barrel (Photo: Winnie Andrews)

Lorraine Marcus was browsing the Crate and Barrel kitchenware on a recent afternoon. When asked if the economy has changed her restaurant habits, she responds with an emphatic “yes!” Before last year, she went out about five times per week, now she is going out once a week, she said.

Candace Plostoker, a PR fundraising consultant from Long Island, was also at Crate and Barrel looking for dessert plates. She hasn’t changed her restaurant habits much over the last year, she said, but does look for cheaper grocery prices than before the recession.

Dining at home can save a chunk of change. The average meal for one person in New York costs $40.78, according to a Zagat survey. The most expensive meals in the country can be found in Las Vegas, where an average receipt rings up at $44.44, about $10 more than the national meal average.

Cathy Erway, a copywriter in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, stopped eating in restaurants in 2006. They were too expensive and she was bored with the monotony of always eating the same dishes, she said. So Erway swore off restaurants and began cooking her own meals.

Erway saved $212 a month by cooking at home, or about $5,000 over the course of the two years she stayed out of restaurant seats, she said. The biggest challenge was planning lunches in advance. However, she got the hang of it eventually. “I started to adapt to the routine, I realized it was pretty easy to do and I just kept going,” she said.

During her break from restaurants, Erway started a blog about cooking called “Not Eating out in New York.” She said there were a few kitchen gadgets that she particularly liked. A food processor is particularly good for making hummus inexpensively, and makes preparing pastries a lot easier, she said. “It’s not necessary, but I find that I can make a lot more things now with it,” she said. Erway also likes electric ice-cream makers and said she likes to make inventively flavored ice cream with it.

The trend towards home cooking could be good for overall health. Maudene Nelson, a nutritionist at Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition, said restaurant food tends to be higher in fat, sodium and protein, and those who cook their meals eat more fruits and vegetables than their restaurant-going counterparts.

Nelson encourages home cooks to use what she calls “the plate method:” one-third or less of a dinner plate should be filled with protein like meat or beans, one-third with vegetables, and one-third with carbohydrates like spaghetti, noodles, rice or sweet potatoes.

Cooking classes are also doing well.  Business is strong at Pizza a Casa, a mobile cooking school and catering company in Manhattan. The company’s owner Mark Bello said his 5-hour pizza courses routinely sell out. They cost $150 per class.

Bello said being in the kitchen appeals to people. “In addition to it being economical, cooking really brings people together,” he said.

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