Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 30, 2014

Cooking Polish Again – And going veggie at it

By Ernest Barteldes

It had always been sort of a personal quest – and a challenge – to make golapki, or Polish-style stuffed cabbage. The first obstacle was the fact that I did not own a Dutch oven, which is basically a very large pot – the pans I had at home were big enough to make a pot roast (not that I would make one in the first place) but just not right for that dish.

Earlier this summer, I walked into a discount store close to work and they were having a sale of kitchen equipment and that included – you guessed it – Dutch ovens. I immediately picked one up and texted Renata about it. But we would have to wait a few months, since it was the beginning of summer and the last thing you want to do during that time is to boil cabbage and remove its leaves one by one. This is after all comfort food, and the last thing you want to be is uncomfortable while preparing it. So we waited until it cooled down a little, and late September there was a bit of a cold snap that made it possible to actually go ahead give it a try.
Now when it comes to cooking dishes for the first time, I prefer not to interact with people too much because I get edgy with people telling me what to do (the same goes when I’m driving, so mind your own business and let me go around in circles). A friend of ours had originally offered to come in all the way from Queens to help with the first “ production,” but being hard-headed as I am (apologies to the friend) I preferred to go mostly on my own with some assistance from Renata.

I researched long and hard on how to make golapki. I settled with two different recipes – one I’d had from a collection called “Grandma’s Kitchen” and another from a blog by an Eastern European enthusiast. I also added my own flavor to it by adding not simply a sauce made from the cooking juices and sour cream but one of my favorites – vodka sauce. I also used ground turkey instead of beef or pork, because both Renata and I prefer it that way.
The result was so satisfactory that I repeated it the following weekend, allowing the cabbage leaves to cook a little longer to add a little more tenderness to the bite. It was quite an experience, but it kept me wondering: what if I could find a meatless version of that dish? As regular readers are aware of, I often like to “go veggie” at dinner, especially when we have been eating fowl or seafood a lot.

A little bit of browsing led me to the mother lode – A Serbian recipe called “Posna Sarna” that replaces meat for carrots, tomatoes, garlic and celery. According to the info on the site, these are prepared during the period of Orthodox Serbian Lent and Advent, when meat and dairy is strictly prohibited.
I prepared it last weekend and it was pretty awesome. I would not include the sauerkraut because it caused the sauce to become a bit too sour to our tastes – and next time I guess I will return to vodka sauce instead of tomato.

Anyway, here is the recipe

• 1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
• 2 onions, finely chopped
• 3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
• 1 rib celery, finely chopped
• 3 Cubanelle or sweet peppers, finely chopped
• 2 cups cooked long-grain rice
• 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
• Salt and black pepper to taste
• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1 (3- to 4-pound) head cabbage
• 1 (32-ounce) jar sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
• 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
• 1 (10-3/4-ounce) can tomato soup
• Prep Time: 20 minutes
• Cook Time: 60 minutes
• Total Time: 80 minutes


Heat oil in large skillet. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add celery, carrots, peppers and cook for 5 minutes. Add rice, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool and mix in garlic. Meanwhile, steam cabbage until leaves are limp and pull away easily. Continue to remove as many leaves as possible. With a paring knife, remove tough ribs from leaves without damaging leaves. Reserve tougher outer leaves but don’t use for rolling. Heap 2 tablespoons vegetable filling on each leaf, fold top of the cabbage leaf up over filling, then fold sides to the center, and roll away from you to encase completely. Repeat until filling is gone. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Discard the cabbage core and coarsely chop any remaining cabbage except the tough outer leaves you have reserved. Spread chopped cabbage on the bottom of a large casserole dish or Dutch oven. Add the sauerkraut. Layer on the cabbage rolls, seam side down. Cover rolls with reserved outer leaves. Mix tomato sauce and soup with enough water to make a liquid consistency. Pour over rolls until mixture is level with rolls but not over the top. Cover casserole dish and bake 1 hour. Let sit 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Freezes well.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 23, 2014

Music in The Kitchen! Plus Mexican Eggs

For the longest time I wanted to have loudspeakers in the kitchen – our iPhone-friendly Sony stereo has fine speakers, but in order for the music to be heard, we had to crank the volume up to 11 – which would result with our neighbors hearing way much more than we did.

A temporary solution was hooking up my phone to a battery-operated loudspeaker, but that limited things to either my playlist or the unpredictability of apps like Pandora and TuneIn Radio – sure, they are great at times, but considering that Renata and I have accumulated thousands of CDs over the years and that I do have a lot of music to listen to for potential reviews, I felt that I was missing a great opportunity to use the time to listen to all that stuff – and then there was the fact that our albums were doing little more than gathering dust.

Come our last anniversary (in September, if anyone was wondering), Renata presented me with something I had been considering for a long time – a four-channel speaker selector that made it possible for me to install a couple of speakers that had been sitting in the closet for the longest time – survivors of past stereo systems that we’d purchased in the past but that were no longer in use.

I must say the result has been awesome. I can now cook into the night without worrying about getting an eviction notice because I’d become a nuisance of some kind. In the last few weeks, I have digging into our collection and hearing albums I’d nearly forgotten while allowing that growing pile I get from publicists and labels (at least those who have not gone fully digital yet). Having music actually play in the kitchen has made the fun of cooking even more pleasurable, because the sound quality is way much better than what I used to get from a four-inch battery operated speaker.

I still listen to the radio stations from time to time (I almost never miss Breakfast With The Beatles on Q104.3), but revisiting those gems that had been sitting in the living room is a much more interesting experience.

Has my cooking improved because of this? That is a hard question to answer, since I am highly critical of what I make (go ahead, ask Renata). But now I wonder what to do with those other two remaining slots – maybe I should install a couple more speakers in the bathroom? It would make for a more interesting… shower experience.


Mexican-style eggs

(Serves 4)

Source: Univision Delicioso


3 tbsp. canola oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 plum tomato, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. thinly sliced cilantro leaves
8 eggs, lightly beaten



  1. Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, jalapeño, and tomato, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 6 minutes.

    2. Add cilantro and eggs, and cook, folding eggs over in large curds occasionally, until cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 18, 2014

Cooking with Pearl (or Israeli) Couscous

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 13, 2014

Meat-Free at The Brazilian Cookout

A couple of weeks ago the Brazilian community at New York’s Our Lady of Pompeii Church held its annual barbecue, to which the members pitch in to buy meat and drinks – some bring more soda, beer and wine to share, and it is a day-long event that goes on quite late. I got there really early, and it was already dark by the time I left, and some girls were still dancing to the groove of “pagode,” a popular take on samba with humorous lyrics and an uptempo beat.

If you have ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse, you know that it is all about the meat – beef is immensely popular there, especially picanha, or rump cover (also known as top sirloin cap in some places), but they are pretty equal opportunity – during the cookout there was plenty of sausage and chicken alongside green salad, rice and of course the inevitable “farofa,” a side dish made with cassava flour – traditionally, you dip your meat into eat before eating it.

Readers of this blog know that I am into vegetarian cooking even though I am not exclusively vegetarian, so I decided to introduce the group to an alternative dish – tofu skewers in an orange marinade that I learned about a few years back  – a recipe created, believe it or not, by Pamela Anderson (yes, that Pamela Anderson) . It is quite easy to prepare, since all you have to do is prepare the marinade and the skewers a day early and just lay them on the grill for a few minutes.

When I brought the prepared skewers to the cookout, I must say I was a bit skeptical of the reaction. I had made them before using an indoor grill and got a mixed response from guests that tried it, but then again two of them were avowed meat lovers.  Of course, using charcoal makes a big difference, so I knew that the flavor would be much better. Also, I changed the recipe a bit, including some Dominican mojo criollo (found in the Latin section of many supermarkets) to give it more of a kick.

To my surprise, most people present thoroughly enjoyed my contribution.  Some seemed skeptical at first, but after they took the first bite it was like a new discovery – one of them liked them so much that she went back for more until they were all gone. I made about 30, and they had all been consumed within an hour.  Many who tried were asking me about the recipe, and those who came too late were also asking me about it.

I guess I will have to enlist Renata next year to help me make more of those – they were a healthy and meat-free alternative.

Orange marinated tofu skewers
From “Meat Free Mondays” (recipe by Pamela Anderson)

For the skewers
24 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large onions cut into 1-inch pieces
1 green pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lb. whole cherry tomatoes
Orange pieces for garnish

For the marinade
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 ½ tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Zest of 1 orange
1½ cups olive oil

2 tablespoons mojo criollo
10 bamboo skewers

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade, except the oil, in a food processor and blend for fifteen seconds. While the machine is running, slowly add the oil until well blended.

Thread the tofu, onions, peppers and tomatoes onto the skewers. Place in a shallow dish and pour the marinade onto the tofu and vegetables. Leave to marinate for four hours. Remove the skewers from the marinade and either grill over a medium flame for about five minutes on each side or place under broiler until the veggies are lightly cooked and have grill marks. Serve with orange pieces.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 22, 2014

Fire Island: Our Not-So-Far Riviera

Lighthouse Beach

Lighthouse Beach

It took me a while to discover Fire Island – I was aware of it via comments from people I have known over the years, but the only thing I heard was that it was mostly an LGBT hangout where people hung out nude on the beach – quite an incorrect stereotype that I came to learn about when Renata and I made our first visit back in 2011, when I finally realized what the island was about.
The Fire Island Lighthouse
On that first visit we booked a hotel on Bay Shore, Long Island since we were unaware that the hotels on the island itself (they are not listed on websites like Expedia or Hotwire – more on that later). We found a little motel with little to offer except a convenient location near supermarkets and about half a mile from the ferry terminal.

We woke up early on Memorial Day 2011 and headed out, taking advantage of a summer package provided by the MTA in which you can get discounted rail and ferry tickets to Fire Island. We took a cab to our hotel, unpacked and then walked to the ferry terminal, where our adventure began.

Our first glimpse of the island was the village of Ocean Beach, which is arguably one of the most convenient when it comes to service – there are plenty of restaurants, bars and shops to choose from, including a pleasant bar on the seafront where you find affordable drinks. On the other hand, it kind of sucks there because of the incredible restrictions they impose there – among other things, you cannot even have bottled water on the beach unless it is in “clear plastic bottles “, and there is a roaming police officer making sure you follow the rules – they are so anal there that the community has been affectionately called “the land of no.”

The Land of No

Our next stop was Kismet, which we found far more interesting. The village is arguably the postcard of Fire Island since it is located near the iconic lighthouse ( , which is open for visitation – climbing the steps up give you the best view of the surroundings, but is quite a challenge (which Renata and I have taken twice) since there is no elevator and the climb is quite steep.

Kismet has two restaurants located on the Bay Side and a small convenience store. At the beach, it’s mostly family oriented. Its famous clothing-optional beach is now closed after the dunes there were destroyed as a result of Hurricane Sandy, but there are reports that some naturists are fighting the ban and strategically sunbathing au naturel by creating semi-private areas marked by makeshift curtains.

A recent discovery is the community of Cherry Grove, which is one of the oldest LGBT communities in the country. It is also one of the island’s most laid-back areas, where a handful of nude sunbathers share the space with their “textile” counterparts with no incident. Cherry Grove is home to the Grove Hotel, where they host many events (varying from drag shows to jazz concerts) and also have a sit-down restaurant. On our most recent visit, we made a stop at Cherry’s ( , a relaxed bar located right off the ferry landing where we enjoyed some tasty appetizers and some cold drinks before heading to the surf, where we spent many pleasant hours among friends.

The only bad thing I can say about Fire Island is their hotels – during the summer season, they won’t book less than two nights (three on long weekends), and prices can be very steep – ranging from $ 250 a night for rooms with very few amenities except for the fact that you are spending the night there. However, they seem to be making good business, since rooms are fully booked way in advance.

Last year, I wrote an extensive article on Fire Island for – it details the ferries, restaurants and other facts in better detail than this blog – you can read it here

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 5, 2014

Meatless Somedays + Mushroom Penne a La Vodka

As I have written before, I often enjoy ‘going veggie’ from time to time when I cook. I don’t do it based on any kind of principle or anything like that, but because both Renata and I enjoy mixing things up, especially on our Sunday dinners, when I cook something more elaborate than the quick dishes I make every day for our boxed lunches.

If you have read my previous posts, you will see that I am not exactly a vegetarian, since I do eat seafood and poultry quite frequently, but I do have a certain fondness for meat-free dishes. Some people I know cringe when I say that I made pasta with home-made vegetarian ‘meatballs’ (my version contains shredded cabbage, chickpea flour and shredded cauliflower) or when I bring tofu skewers to a cookout, but I am definitely not the kind of person who sees – like so many state – “a hole on the plate” when there is no meat at the table.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not that hard to bring meat-free food to the table – in fact, many very well-known dishes adapt quite well – lasagna can be made with mushrooms instead of beef, and various sauces are originally meat-free in the first place, such as Alfredo or marinara. For instance, pasta with vodka sauce usually contains diced ham, but I substitute them with sautéed mushrooms and it tastes even more delicious as the mushrooms add even more flavor to the dish.

Sure, there are dishes that simply cannot be adapted – I could not imagine having vegetarian feijoada made with soy-based sausages and vegetarian bacon or bigos without real kielbasa. But when a substitution is possible, I go for it. I make about two meat-free dishes a week whenever possible, and I can ascertain that we do not miss meats when we enjoy them.
While eating vegetables is good for you, abstaining meats at least once a week is also good for the environment. According to, we can contribute to saving water, reducing greenhouse gases and also saving on fuel, because raising livestock does take a toll on these issues, for instance, “About 25 kilocalories of fossil fuel energy is used to produce 1 kilocalorie of all meat based protein, as compared with 2.2 kilocalories of fossil fuel input per 1 kilocalorie of grain based protein produced,” explains the site “The meat industry uses so much energy to produce grain for livestock that if instead we used the grain to feed people following a vegetarian diet, it would be enough to feed about 840 million people.”
So why not do some good to yourself while helping the planet out as well?


Meat-Free penne a la vodka (serves 2)

½ tablespoon olive oil
8 oz fresh mushrooms, quartered
1 12 oz. can of tomato sauce
½ cup of heavy cream
1 cup of vodka
Dried basil to taste
½ package of penne pasta.

Instructions: cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. In the meantime, simmer the vodka until reduced to about half. Add the tomato sauce and cream and reserve. Heat the oil and sautee the mushrooms until they have released their liquid. Season with salt and pepper and add to the reserved sauce. Heat the mushroom mixture and serve over pasta.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 4, 2014

The Poland Report Part III – Krakow

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 25, 2014

The Poland Report Part 2: Warsaw

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 17, 2014

The Poland Report Part One: Chelm

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | May 29, 2014

Let’s Make Some Chicken! + Chicken Mole Recipe

Older Posts »



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