Category Archives: Recipes

Let’s Talk Turkey

If you are like me, this time of year means serious cooking. But this responsibility, however fun, can be stressful if not planned correctly. Time management is the key to a successful repast. It’s not too early to start your Thanksgiving shopping. Making a comprehensive list is important, and scheduling your cooking can prove most helpful if you want to enjoy the actual meal with your family and friends.

The centerpiece of the meal is the turkey, and this should be given the most thought. In Haiti, my grandparents used to raise turkeys in their backyard, waiting until they were plump enough for roasting. Refrigeration was a luxury and frozen birds were hard to find. If you wanted a turkey, you either had to go to the marketplace or raise it at home. My grandfather would feed lemon juice to the live turkey as a disinfectant, destroying any germs and cleansing the body. Then the turkey would bathe in a four hour brine to loosen the proteins.

Haitians are used to cooking wild turkeys, but here in America, wild turkeys can prove too tough and gamy. My grandmother gave up on going to the vivero (live poultry shop) to get a fresh turkey the day before. Despite brining, she said they were too tough, and didn’t trust what they were fed while growing up. Heirloom turkeys are great but too costly.

What type of turkey should you purchase? Over the years I have experimented with many brands. With the recipe that my grandmother has passed down to me, the quality of the turkey holds less importance, but a turkey that is brined cuts out a time consuming step.

This brings us to the kosher option, which offers a brined turkey at the right price. Empire turkey fills the number one spot, and you should make every effort to seek it out. At a distant number two, Murray’s turkeys, which are sold at Fairway markets, are quite good. After these two choices, the rest of the turkeys on the market have to do with what you are used to cooking or are most comfortable with. For example, Butterball sells a brined turkey, but the brine solution and butter injection tastes somewhat artificial and unhealthy. Again, if you feel the need for a heritage turkey, beware of the quality of the meat and the possibility of toughness or gamey flavors. In the case of the turkey, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Whichever turkey you choose, buy a large one, put it in a bowl, and let it occupy the top rack of your refrigerator for up to one week. This way you’ll pick the turkey you want, beat the long lines, and save yourself a mad scramble in the last minute. This will also allow you enough time to plan properly for my Haitian turkey recipe, in case you missed it last year.

Pass the Sangria

Sangria, the drink that has come to be synonymous with Spanish wine, has long been misunderstood. To associate sangria with Spanish wine drinking is comparable to saying the Greeks only drink ouzo or the French pastis. The most common drink beloved by the Spaniards is a cana, or a four ounce beer, served in a small glass, ice cold from the keg, and consumed rapidly, almost like a shot. It is a little known fact that most Spaniards consume sangria during the summer and only in certain parts of Spain. Otherwise, the drink of choice is a red wine, whatever the region has to offer.

The quality of such Spanish winemaking has evolved exponentially, especially in the last twenty years, with otherwise unknown regions such as Jumilla, Montsant, Navarra, Penedes, Yecla, Toro and Bierzo emerging as fine examples of Spanish craftsmanship.

Sangria exhibits versatility, because it is a red wine that acts like a cold white, satisfying both desires. But no comparison can be made to a wine of real craft and value. Sangria is made with jug wine, sugar and soda. It is often too sweet a match for good food, and is the source of many a hangover with its deliberate sweetness. As the winter months approach it is time to sample what Spain has to offer. Have a conversation with the wine director or chef about what is available according to your palate. You will be justly rewarded and perhaps pleasantly surprised.

If you are looking for world class wines with dinner, vintage charts are important. For example, 1994 was an excellent year for Rioja, 2001 for Navarra etc. Spanish wines can age like red burgundies, great aromas, light-bodied, but intensely flavored. Just try a 1994 Miguel Merino Reserva if you need proof, for example.

For those of you who are still holding on to Sangria flavors, check out my recipe that I have developed over the years, having stayed in Spain and consulted with many an unofficial aficionado. Otherwise drink Spanish wine! Viva Espana! Ole!

SANGRIA

By Chef Mateo

1.5 litre tempranillo
128 oz. pitcher
juice of 3 oranges
½ bottle cava
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup Spanish brandy
Juice of 2 limes
4 cups of ice
1 sliced apple
20 oz. club soda
1 sliced pear
½ cup sugar
1 sliced peach
pinch of nutmeg
3 cinnamon sticks

Add ingredients to pitcher.
Then add ice. Stir well.
Cover and let rest in fridge for 8 hours.
Serve chilled.

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

Viva Mexico!

The holiday of Cinco de Mayo, the 5th of May, commemorates the victory of the Mexican army over Napoleon and the French at The Battle of Puebla in 1862. Puebla is renowned for their artisanal furniture-making, and this holiday is celebrated throughout the state as well as the city.

Celebrating this holiday has become very popular, especially near the U.S.-Mexico border, in states where there is a naturally high population of Mexican immigrants. As a result, several cities have caught on to the spirit of Cinco de Mayo by holding parades and throwing big fiestas. New York is home to a quite a few Mexicans, and many restaurants will take full advantage of the chance at festivities.

Like New Year’s Eve, I prefer a balanced mix of house party and going out. You save some money that way, control your environment, and above all, can go all out on the food and wine, in this case spirits.

One memorable Cinco de Mayo party I’ve attended in the past was at my friends’ flat, Peter and Hope. Hope, who is part Mexican, crafted some delicious Mexican fare, from moist duck enchiladas to rich moles, to perfect guacamole, just to name some highlights. Partnered with Peter’s lascivious margaritas with fruit purees, and forget about it. I’ve spent one or two of these holidays comatose on their couch. With their recent addition of Isabella, the adorable one, parties have simmered down just a tad.

For going out, I like to bar hop. Some of my old haunts include Zarela, Rosa Mexicana, Rancho’s, Mama Mexico, and Rio Grande. If I’m feeling lucky, I’ll head over to 116th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues for the real deal, complete with mariachis. This little enclave is like Little Mexico, smack dab in the middle of El Barrio, with a few Italian businesses still hanging on for good measure.

Then of course there’s the good house party, which is made up of good country Mexican music (for lamenting and screaming), good guacamole and chips (to keep from being smashed too quickly), and proper tequila (margaritas too).

Have each guest bring a bottle so you never run out, and have some for next year. There are some fancy tequilas on the market now, and they can be as expensive as a single malt scotch. Reserve those only for sipping. Some of my favorites are Centenario, Tres Generaciones, and Don Julio. But for mixing, try a reposado like Cazadores, although run of the mill stuff like Sauza Comemorativo and Cuervo Especial will do the job.

While in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, a good friend of mine (who happens to be a general in the army) opened up the back of his SUV and declared, “En mi pais (In my country), hay dos necessarios (there are two essentials), mis tequilas (my tequilas) y mis armas.(my guns).” Neither ever left his side.

Engage in wild dancing and screaming contests, and rejoice in the independence of the Mexican people, and people all over the world who have had to struggle against oppression for their right to party.

For my recipes go to www.chefmateo.com

L’Idiot Affineur

Cheese is all the rage in New York, thanks to Steve Jenkins of Fairway markets, Terrance Brennan of Picholine/Artisanal, and other pioneers. Mr. Jenkins’ cheese primer just about educated the hungry masses, and Terrance Brennan stylized the cheese cave in a restaurant. Some proponents of cheese would have you believe that cheese is part of the culinary DNA, that no matter what type of eater you are, there’s a cheese out there just for you.

Growing up, the best cheese I could get my hands on was young gouda and american slices. Parmesan cheese came out of a green tin. Sometimes in the fridge there would be a wheel of cheese cut into triangles with silver wrapping on it, featuring a happy cow as if to remind me where cheese comes from.

Gradually, I learned about other cheeses through burger choices: swiss, cheddar, muenster, and weird bleu. Never the blue for me. Then parties with bad, off the block brie. Ho hum, but a necessary transition.

Then a brave new world opened up when I tasted the undisputed king of all cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano. This Italian cheese, full of umami (a sort of sixth, savory sense packed with glutamate), opened my mind and my palate to the undiscovered country, a land filled with cheese courses to come for a lifetime. If nothing else, always stock this versatile food.

There’s a turning point in a culinary lifespan, when you have something proper and no longer turn back, like the day you taste great sushi or aged beef. There’s just no way you can compromise for anything less, at least not while attentive and sober.

As in an informal culinary education, you seek friends who are interested in good food, cooking, wine, etc. Cheese is no exception. Jay is the resident cheese guy in our group, the Grand Crew, and I have benefited from his lifelong appreciation of cheese, the process, and its rightful place in any top-notch meal.

If there is someone in your life who fills this role, cherish that person, listen, take notes, and above all, always bring him/her proper cheese.

Jay has inspired me not only to look at cheese in a different, more meaningful way, but also to try to age my own cheese in my refrigerator at home. I’m known as the idiot affineur of the group due to my ability (or luck) to age cheese in a humidity-free drawer at the bottom of my refrigerator, thereby aging fresh cheeses and transforming them into something very advanced. Don’t ask me how I do it. Like I said, idiot affineur.

Passing along some advice, what helped me get over my distaste for blue cheese was a “gateway” blue. The gateway cheese is that which helps you over the hump, and sets you off looking for radical forms of cheese. For me it was the Cabrales, a Spanish blue that marries well with red wines, is in between mild and strong both in flavor and in nose. If you don’t like Cabrales, blue cheese is just not for you. Because following this are English stiltons, dirt French bleus and so on. On second thought, you might try Maytag blue. I’ve used it to make great blue cheese dressing for hot wings.

For bries, step up and try a wheel of Pierre Robert or Explorateur. Just don’t blame me for not being able to keep it in the fridge.

Over the years, my favorites have changed, but some are perennials. On a desert island, if I had to pick, I would have an aged Vacherin Mont d’Or, a Torta del Casar, and aged Manchego, a good, runny Epoisse, and a Neil’s Yard Farmhouse Stilton. Anytime you can get your hands on these beauties, snap them up. They’re worth it.

The question remains: Where should I buy my cheese?

As with any food or wine item, of primary importance is the relationship you foster with the vendor. Some vendors are owners, quite skilled, and the great ones get to know you palate and challenge you to new ideas. Just as you should have a fish monger, a butcher, your favorite produce at the farmer’s market, the wine guy, and maybe even a chef on hand for advice, cheese should be no exception.

Next is the quality of the cheese and how the cheese is stored at the location. Price should not come into play. As with any good product, we must pay. Remember this supports the industry.

I have purchased cheese at Balducci’s, the Garden of Eden, Fairway (both locations), Zabar’s, Whole Foods, Artisanal, Citarella, Gourmet Garage, Murray’s (both locations) and a host of other supermarkets not worthy of any mention. Fairway uptown has a good cheese selection and has served me well in the past. Fairway on the upper west side has poor storing conditions for its cheese section, and as a result, my friends and I have returned many a cheese. The shop uptown is better because the cheese breathes in the open, airy space in which it is kept. Zabar’s is good for young, fresh cheese, but nothing exciting. Gourmet Garage has improper storing conditions for its cheeses. You have to inspect the packaging carefully. I often purchase at the Garden of Eden because of its location, and the just is merely fair. Citarella lacks depth, but stores its cheeses properly, and Whole Foods has been surprising me on occasion. Artisanal is a cheese altar, but the prices are more expensive than any other competitor in the city. I do treasure the trendy cheese bags they send me home with my purchase.

The clear winner is Murray’s, and it is most definitely worth the trip. Every time I get lazy and want to buy cheese elsewhere, I either regret it or get lucky. Murray’s passion is cheese and it shows. Just go there on a weekday, when a sales rep. can spend over an hour with you figuring out your tastes and needs. The staff works there because they live cheese. You feel like you are buying from the cheese shrine in the sky. They have the widest selection, and often are privy to raw or hard to find choices. Murray’s offers a multitude of specialty gourmet products, from pasta to chocolate, to Niman Ranch salumi, to olives, to Amy’s bread, to artisanal honeys, etc. My main man Cielo has been hooking me up for some time now. Find your regular too.

Cheese courses should be comprised of four selections if possible, a goat, cow, sheep and blue. If you can find them raw (score!), the better. All cheeses should be served at room temperature so as to bring out all the natural flavors and slight nuances. Try to match cheese and wine with the region of cuisine. This is almost foolproof, although you’ll find that goat cheese is a problem to match with most wines (try a Sancerre or Savennieres). Dessert wines, however, do work well. Think ports and madeiras, as well as ice wines from the Finger Lakes. Jay has preached to me that cheese should always be served before dessert so as not to “blow up” your palate. I have been resistant to this for years because I feel that no one will have room for the cheese. I continue to be wrong about this. Serve one cheese in the beginning if you must, but try not to. That’s what olives and salume are for.

When you are done for the night, wrapping is important to prolong the life of the cheese. Use wax paper and secure with tape, or wrap in plastic wrap. Try not to handle the cheese with your hands. Rather, place the wrapping over the cheese and scoop it up. Then fasten the underside. Plastic wrap doesn’t work as well because the cheese doesn’t get to breath, but it will do for at least one week.

Like a good bottle of bubbly, you should always have cheese in the house for surprise guest visits, emergencies, and your own appetite. After all, serving cheese and wine is a civilized thing to do.

Cheese is great served alone with sliced fruit, but here are some quick and easy goto recipes:

Blue Cheese, Honey & Nuts

½ lb. Neil’s Yard Farmhouse Stilton

Lavender Honey

Walnuts

1 box Finn Crisps

On crisps, spread some stilton, drizzle honey on top, and sprinkle with nuts.

Blue Cheese Dressing

1 cup sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

¾ cup crumbled Maytag Blue cheese

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley

salt & pepper to taste.

In a mixing bowl, fold in sour cream, mayo, and blue cheese. Add rest of ingredients and salt & pepper.

(Can store for one week in refrigerator)

Ricotta & Honey

1 lb Fresh Ricotta

Honey

Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Place three tbsp ricotta in a small bowl. Grind pepper. Drizzle honey to taste. Repeat for number of guests. (Serves 4)