Category Archives: Cooking

Heat Wave

Trying to acclimate to NYC, with its inexplicable absence of spring or fall seasons has been more painful than watching the Red Sox sweep of the Yankees.  Having recently returned from France where the flowers were blooming, the skies blue, the sunshine bright and the breezes blowing, this weather makes me want to defect.  Maybe New York is just not the place to be in the summer months any more.

There are some saving graces such as the Highline, food truck mania, the upcoming BBQ festival at Madison Park, reservations practically anywhere, but who wants to go out into a thicket of humid air mass?  My only solution is to treat this summer like a winter.  Hibernate.  I hit the 97th St. Farmer’s Market and bought everything in site.  In the comfort of A/C, I will make pesto, tomato sauce, pickle vegetables, hot sauce, and ice cream.  I will freeze all the fresh meat products for a balmy day and only come out of my cave when the temperature is below 85 degrees.  With food, wine and a/c, I will survive this harsh summer.  Cooking will take the heat off.  Being in the kitchen, where it is supposed to be hot is far more gratifying than the alternative – traveling via train anywhere.

Let’s start with a simple pesto recipe, one I used recently with some fresh spinach and cheese ravioli from Eataly.

PESTO

2 cups basil, 1/2 cup evoo, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 cup pignoli (pine nuts), 1/2 cup grated parm reggiano/pecorino romano

In a food processor, add all ingredients while slowly drizzling olive oil.

Store in a tight jar with a film of olive oil on top to preserve color and freshness.

World Cup Fare

Perhaps what is equally as important as rooting for your national team is what you are eating and drinking during the matches.  While Thailand hasn’t qualified, and whose cuisine I will sadly miss, you can still celebrate the other 31 teams in style.  This morning, I sipped on a lovely Graham Beck Brut Rose (SA) while downing some chipotle bacon with rasberry pancakes doused in agave syrup.  The Tecate was on ice, but since the match was level, I decided to wait for the Uruguay  vs. France outcome to let it loose.  Champagne with churrasco?  What a match.  Tomorrow’s anticipated England vs. USA.  Bangers and mash, fish and chips, hot dogs, burgers, and beer baby, lots of beer. Also tomorrow, South Korea vs. Greece – surf and turf.  Lots of saganaki, tsatsiki and taramosalata followed by kimchi and bulgogi.  Retsina and Soju, painful no matter who wins.

Think of all the world fusion.  Japan vs. Cameroon, Spain vs. Switzerland, Germany vs. Australia.  Mix and match wine, beer, spirits and cuisine.

Let the games (and food & wine pairings) begin!

Unico

I am a February baby, and trying to figure out how to celebrate the big 40 can be a challenge.  I decided on several small celebrations, rather than a blow out gala or trip to a foreign land.  First up was a lunch with close foodie friends, gentlemen who I have known for over ten years, eaten delicacies at home, restaurants, and through many travels. We have formed our own homage to a gastronomic club like those in San Sebastian, called the Grand Crew.  There are women in this club too, but for this leg of the event, due to the limitations of time and wine quantity, the guest list was four herbs and a bottle.

It is often a task to figure out when to drink expensive wine that you’ve been cellaring, and we often try too hard to wait to open wine, when a simple occasion with friends and loved ones will do .    Not so much for a 40th birthday, the sky is the limit.  I learned from my good friend Jay, whom I have shared many a birthday bottle with, a gift from his father, who had enough foresight to buy several bottles of his son’s birth year to present as a gift when he reached the tender age of twenty one, allowing for maximum aging and enjoyment.  My father only drinks Dominican rum, and so I have sought out some wines from 1970 myself. Luckily for me, 1970 was good for Bordeaux, Barolo,  Barbaresco, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero.

The crown of my collection is a 1970 Vega Sicilia Unico, considered one of the greatest wines ever crafted in Spain and the world, and I planned the whole meal around it.  Every year I ask my grandparents and mother to make several delicacies I have enjoyed my whole life, without which there would be much less joy.  The menu was simple and complimentary to what I though the Vega Sicilia would taste like.  Pork liver pate from Dickson’s Farmstand, lamb kibbe and mechie, Middle Eastern-Haitian staples, celebratory food in the Marcelin household, a real family project and production for preparation and execution.

Kibbe is composed of ground lamb and bulgur wheat, with spices and herbs shaped into torpedoes or patties, and can be eaten raw or deep fried.  I cannot live without them.  Mechie is stuffed cabbage, grape leaves, and eggplant, filled with a rice and beef mixture, often spiced with scotch bonnet peppers.

Now that the menu was set, other wines had to be considered. El Capitan brought a white, and wanted to bring a Champagne.  In my absolute anticipation of the Unico, I could not think clearly, and only asked for he white, a grave error, especially for a Champagne whore such as myself!  But we survived, being consoled by a tremendous Chablis from Dauvissat, a 1999 premier cru, “La Forest”, brimming with exuberance, almost too delicious for its own good, not allowing for time to appreciate, bestow compliments and evolve in the glass.  The middle wine was a gift from Maria Jose of Lopez de Heredia, who I visited this past summer in La Rioja, and generously sent me home with two ‘64’s, both Bosconia and Tondonia.  This would be the wine to lead up to the Unico, as I was careful not to drink them side by side begging for comparison, as both are outstanding wines in their own right.

I played Haitian music throughout the meal, and that accompanied with our friendship and the amazing food, caused dancing in the seat, especially after we sipped the ’64 LDH, a gorgeous, floral, feminine beauty, standing up to the spiciness of the kibbe, and enhancing our appreciation of it.  We were drinking the Bosconia, which Maria Jose swears is more masculine in style than the Tondonia, and that the bottling choice was a mistake they never chose to correct.  I can’t wait to try the Tondonia to corroborate her story.  I know she is the winemaker, but all Bosconias I have tasted in the past seem feminine to me, and all Tondonias, more masculine.

The kibbe was the best I had ever tasted.  I went to Dickson’s Farmstand for all the meat, which added a brightness to each bite, the lamb bringing the dish to the next level.  The mechie was delicate, steaming and nuanced were the flavors, built from slow simmering.

Then we opened the Vega Sicilia Unico, which was an indescribable wine.  It was elusive, powerful yet finessed, not young or old, ageless.  I have actually been thinking about how to describe this wine for several days now, and have come no closer to understanding its seduction.  It is easily the greatest wine of my memory, a real masterpiece.  Its flavor profile is just delicious, and talking about this wine in an academic way is to dishonor the spirit of this wine, which promotes a feeling of being very special just by drinking it.

We had some wine left in the glass for the Vacherin Mont d’Or, easily my favorite cheese in the world, consumed in minutes, raw milk unctuous creaminess sopped up with a filone from Grand Daisy, followed by chocolate covered almonds from Jacques Torres.                                          

The jubilee was at a zenith when I opted for the Cohibas and Havana Club, even Dr. L. and Jay could not refuse, an absolutely perfect pairing, sending us into a dizzying frenzy of euphoria, blunting our palate so as not to drink more vintage wine, thankfully what a defense.

Somehow I made it to Pata Negra later that evening, high on life and happy to see friends and new clients at my place of business.  I was surprised to receive another gift from Maria Jose, delivered to my door during the day, all handled secretly by the lovely Chris, the charming mademoiselle who you will find working the room at Pata Negra when I am not around.  I remember having a conversation about drinking birth year wines very casually, and she offered to send me a 1970 LDH.  I didn’t think on it until the bottle was in my hand, a Tondonia.  She is most gracious for the gift, and I felt blessed to have such fine friends and family all who have showered me with gifts throughout my life.  I am truly grateful.

At 40 I have learned something important from that Unico, that age is just a number, that we should strive to be like a great wine, elegant, powerful, indescribable, delicious and timeless.

Spanish Neighbors

As a fan of aged Riojas in the old style, I am intrigued by its immediate neighbors, mainly Navarra and Ribera del Duero. In my most recent post I reported on the current crop of Navarra wines which have been improving steadily since the last New York Times Tasting panel. I am especially intrigued by the graciano blends, a grape usually reserved for rounding out tempranillo. Although not as age-worthy as its Rioja counterpart, a great value and increase in overall expert winemaking is evident with sample from such great vintages such as 2000, 2001, and 2004.

Which brings up the more powerful Riberas, wines that have great finesse, structure and aging potential, wines of dark fruit and wily tannins – wines that often rival the best of Rioja. At issue, however, is the readiness of these wines. I am finding that the 1996 vintage is just starting to show a happy face, while subsequent vintages are more closed off. Just taste the 1996 Arzuaga and compare it to later cosechas to see my point. This is true for reserva and gran reserva. In a recent sampling of 2004 crianzas, they appear to be more accessible on the nose, but the palate is still developing. Patience is the key word for Ribera del Duero. A trip to the cellar is your best bet with Arzuaga, Pesquera, and the other top ten producers.

If you need a bottle of Ribera to drink now, opt for the joven (young wine). These wines see very little oak and are quite black juicy fruit right now. Riberal, Monte Negro, and Figueres are fine values that will bring suprising delight. These wines were very forgiving, food ready and priced right. A comparison of Rosso di Montalcino vs. Brunello comes to mind, not for the flavor profile, but for the Rosso’s accessibility. The same can be said for these jovens. For now, Rioja is still the favorite, young or old, but it’s nice to see the other Spanish winemakers step up their game.

Little India, Singapore

by William Lychack

Eggplants are, apparently, either male or female, Kali getting us up to our elbows in these great bins of eggplants, explaining in her sing-song voice how females will have more meat, less seeds, and will be less bitter for us. She shows us the way males don’t have dimples under their fat end and explains how we’ll be candy striping the skins later and dressing them with salt to draw the water out before cooking. We are, by the way, in Little India, in the middle of one of Singapore’s many wet markets, Kali having started our education in her native Tamil cooking by teaching us first how to choose the best produce and then how to dicker the best prices with the stall owners. “You must be willing mongers. Kali holds each fish by its tail to test its freshness. She opens the gills, which need to be bright red, and strokes each tiger shrimp to be sure they’re slippery to the touch, which means they’re fresh. There are great baskets of slow-moving spider crabs and, above us, scissor swallows swoop back and forth under the ceiling. Kali argues over the price, has the fish wrapped in newspaper, and tells us that she doesn’t know about us, but she already has the most important ingredient for any meal—hunger.

Outside is Serangoon Road, the walkways strung with rally flags and colored lights—it’s the day after Ganesh’s birthday—and bright red shrines to the Elephant Boy and his mother, Sati, stand on every corner. Bollywood music warbles under the awnings of a music store. One of Singapore’s most famous fortune-tellers happens to be at the corner and we stop and sit in the shade of his sidewalk booth, his bright green parrot looking,” she says, “to walk away.”

We’re winding a path through this warren of dry goods and flowers, fruits and vegetables, making our slow way toward the musky smell of lamb, then poultry, and then the slick-wet concrete and tiles and smell of the fish at us and choosing our card from the deck before him, the man reading our hands and numbers, Kali translating the what has been and what will come.

Singapore has been home to my wife’s family for more than seven years now—and we’ve planned a feast before returning home to New York. Our final evening in Asia will be tandoori prawns, chicken curry, eggplants, lentils, chutneys, yogurt cucumbers, yellow spring rice, papadam bread, chocolate carrot cake… And as soon as we get home from the market, Kali has us cleaning the prawns, as they’re the quickest to spoil. She talks in a kind of Singlish, a derivation of what most native Singaporens speak, and she tells us how rinsing the shrimp after we peel and de-head them will remove all the flavor from their flesh. We are new to cooking like this, my wife and I, and we just do as Kali does.

“How did she learn to cook?” we ask.

“As a little girl,” she says, “learning to cook, watching my mother, she’d always let me help prepare with her. ‘Chop the onions,’ she’d say. And I’d take up all the little bits and pieces and put it all behind and wait for lunch to be over and for my mother to disappear for a nap. So then I’d go and take all her ingredients into the backyard and, with a little stove and a little pot, I’d cook all the ingredients and try to remember how she did everything. Then I’d call my neighbors, take banana leaves for plates, and make the children sit and serve them. Sometimes my mother caught me, but the more my mother said, “No, no, no,” the more I said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

Not a single ingredient goes into the meal that isn’t connected, in some way, to a story for Kali—the medicinal uses of young ginger, the way she learned to make the mango chutney, how her husband worshipped her lentils leading to why and how they divorced. “I told him I couldn’t go on like we were,” she says and smiles and chops the chicken with a heavy butcher’s cleaver, “and he either had to leave or kill me.”

She describes her cooking as somewhere between the traditional, spicy food of her grandmother and the hawker-style food of her mother. “I cook for health,” she says, “health and presentation.”

KALI’S NAN PURI

½ Cup Milk (warm to the temperature of blood and add ½ teaspoon of sugar in a medium-sized bowl)

Add 1 Tablespoon of yogurt to Milk

Add 1 teaspoon of yeast (sprinkle on top)

Cover with clear-plastic wrap

Ready when foggy (yes, FOGGY—difficult to believe or explain, but after about 10 minutes the bowl will have a fog over it and will be ready for the flour)

Add 3 Cups of flour

1 teaspoon salt

Knead dough always toward the middle, using a light oil on your countertop to avoid sticking, adding touch of warm water

Turn dough over and let rise a second time

Make a log of the dough and cut into 2-inch pieces (approximately the size of a golf ball)

Roll out into a 1/4–inch pancake

Cook in very hot oil (the bread will puff up), turn when golden brown, and let drain