Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | February 27, 2015

Mahi-Mahi – the Path

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | February 2, 2015

Cooking Quickly with Some Planning


By Ernest Barteldes

I would never endorse Martha Stewart’s idea that food needs to be prepared in 15 minutes or less or else it’s a waste of time – after all, there are many great dishes that require more attention than TV advertisers might prefer but I admit to cutting a few corners when time is of the essence – I usually prepare our bag lunches a day early and since I routinely get home after 9 PM, there is little time to slice and dice – so I resort to a number of shortcuts to make things easier but still appetizing.

This means that I often store frozen vegetables, individually packed fish fillets, canned beans and the like so I can get things going more quickly. I might not always clock things at 15 minutes or less, but the overall result is usually positive – Renata hasn’t complained that a dish has bad taste as of yet.

One of the key things about being able to get the results I need is basically planning. When the week begins, I look at my pantry and to see what I have in store (there’s always that can of tuna or frozen mixed vegetables you forgot about) and start thinking what I can do with them. After that, I plan the menu for the entire week and go to a supermarket to get the remaining ingredients I need. After that, it’s just making the dishes in the simplest way possible. One staple here at home is cornmeal-encrusted fried fish fillets served over rice and beans – something simple, quick and satisfying that only takes a few minutes to prepare.

CORNMEAL-CRUSTED FRIED FISH WITH RICE AND BEANS

(Serves 2)

Ingredients

1 ½ cups cornmeal

Salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and dried basil to taste

2-3 tilapia fillets (or other firm fish)

1 cup uncooked Spanish (seasoned) rice

1 14 oz. can black eye peas, drained and washed

Oil for frying and 1 tsp. olive oil, separated.

½ cup coconut milk

Instructions

Bring 2 ½ cups of water to a boil and add 1 tsp. olive oil. Add the rice (do not use salt since Spanish rice is already seasoned) and beans.  Cook in low heat until rice is soft. Add the coconut milk, remove from heat and cover for 5-6 minutes before serving.  In the meantime, mix the cornmeal and the seasonings and coat the fish. Fry the fish, adding some remaining cornmeal to fish if needed after turning it around, about 3-4 minutes on each side.  Serve fish over rice and beans mixture. Garnish with a quarter lime to squeeze over fish.

Recommended wine: sauvignon Blanc

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 19, 2015

The Joy of Indoor Grilling


By Ernest Barteldes

Among the many cooking methods I use, grilling is by far my favorite. It is easy and also very healthy, since you use very little oil and whatever fat in the food pretty much goes away. Living in an apartment does not allow for much of it in the outdoors, but I do have an electric indoor grill that Renata gave me a few Christmases ago. It’s not one of the George Foreman models but a more common one with a small hole on one side to drain fats away from the food.

Because the griddle uses a lot of electricity (when I turn it on, the lights in the kitchen dim a little), I don’t use as often as I’d like, but when I do it is bliss. I’ve been to hibachi restaurants a few times, and I carefully observed how the chefs there work, and that is pretty much my approach – heat up a little oil and begin with the veggies. Once they are done, I put them in a hot plate in the oven (very low heat, just to keep everything warm), and then conclude with the meats. I try to keep things simple and not to go too crazy – after all, that is all what grilling is about. I also enjoy using cooking wine in the process, gently sprinkling the wine on the vegetables or meat as they cook – a trick to keep everything moist and juicy that I learned observing the cooks at a local Hibachi place.

I recall one time when a couple came over while I was grilling some chicken. They brought some salmon and shrimp, and we came up with the idea of cooking the seafood on skewers with a touch of unfiltered palm oil. I recall it was quite the feast – we ended up talking and listening to music until the small hours – and we all had to go to work the next day.

Grilling fish can be tricky – you should always choose a fish that does not flake easily, such as tilapia, salmon or ahi tuna. I did try codfish and flounder, but unfortunately the results were not as good, since they broke up during the process (it was very edible, but the presentation was definitely not the best.

I recently pulled out the grill to make my favorite grilled tilapia – a very easy dish that includes bell peppers, onions and mushrooms that goes great with either a side of rice or sautéed potatoes.

GRILLED TILAPIA WITH PEPPERS, ONIONS AND MUSHROOMS

(Makes four servings)

Ingredients

4 tilapia fillets

8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced.

1 bell pepper, sliced and seeded

1 large white onion, sliced

1 tbsp. olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper to taste (or seasoning salt)

About ½ cup white cooking wine

Heat up the griddle to about 300 F.  Spread half the olive oil until heated. Add the onions and peppers.  Sautee until they are beginning to soften, and add the mushrooms. Sprinkle with a little cooking wine and sauté until the mushrooms are done and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Remove from heat and transfer to a hot plate or put into the oven in an ovenproof plate in very low heat.  Add the remaining olive oil and put the fish on the grill. Season with salt and pepper (or seasoning salt). Sprinkle with the remaining cooking wine and turn once when one side is done. Serve with the vegetables and white rice or sautéed potatoes.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | December 31, 2014

Music and Memories


It is interesting how music affects people in completely different ways. For instance, listening to The Beatles evokes memories of my late childhood and early teenage years. I recall that I was just discovering the music of the Fab Four when I heard about John Lennon’s murder. I remember I was watching some late-night movie and then the film got interrupted for the newsflash. I was 12 back then, but was already a fan, and was looking forward to getting Double Fantasy (“Just Like Starting Over” was playing on the radio a lot back then) for Christmas. Today when I hear any song from that album it takes me back to that fateful night it kind of breaks my heart, even if I love the Lennon half (no, I do not fawn over “Kiss Kiss Kiss”).  Just the other day Renata and I were watching a DVD of John Lennon videos and when “Woman” came on it just brought tears to my eyes.

Renata is not really a Beatles fan, so she couldn’t really relate to the music she was hearing (she did say “Jealous Guy” was a lovely tune).  In all honesty, I only discovered most of John’s solo songs after his passing, since while I was growing up no one had any of the solo-era albums. And that is also true about the solo work of the other former Beatles except maybe Paul McCartney, whose songs got lots of airplay. I recall once hearing “It Don’t Come Easy” and enjoying it a lot it in spite of being completely unaware that it was a Ringo Starr song.

A song that reminds me of my childhood is Rita Lee’s “Coisas Da Vida,” which was actually a minor hit from one of her least-appreciated albums (it has since been rediscovered). I remember when the song came out and it was playing a lot on the radio. I begged all my relatives for a copy of the album – today I have the remastered CD, which is among one of my cherished possessions.

Some albums and songs have a special meaning for me, even if these songs might seem completely off topic. An example of this is Ayo’s 2006 debut Joyful. Whenever I listen to the songs on that disc, I am immediately transported to Krakow, Poland. The singer, however, has zero connection to that country – in fact, she is (according to Wikipedia)  Nigerian-German. So why does she evoke memories of Krakow? Well, it just happened that Renata and I were having a meal at an Italian restaurant called Makaronarnia (http://www.makaroniarnia.com) and the music was playing as we ate. I heard the songs but could not place where I had heard it before, and asked the waitress about it. She brought me the cover and then it hit me – it just happened to be part of my personal collection.

Then there are these songs that remind you of relationships past and present and also the breakups that happen in between. For whatever reason, The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” and Queen’s “Save Me” have always had to do with the end of relationships I had in the past.  The latter is quite obvious given Brian May’s poignant words “years of care and loyalty were nothing but a sham it seems,” but John’s lyrics about having an affair using words so that his then wife would not figure out would be out of place. But that is how it worked for me I guess.

Then of course are songs that make you think of present love. As far as I am concerned, Elton John’s “Your Song” evokes the feelings I have for Renata just other tunes have done about past love affairs. Sure, I have written her a song (which I have played live with Bossa D’ Novo – soon to come back as Bossa +), but whenever I hear it I just can’t help to think how she has “the prettiest eyes I have ever seen.”

So let me know – which are the songs that make you think of a specific time in your life?

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | December 29, 2014

2014 in reviewl


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | December 28, 2014

The Boca Chica Report


By Ernest Barteldes

november2014 020

On our sixth trip to The Dominican Republic, we made a few changes: instead of leaving in the early hours of Thanksgiving Day and spending a sleep-deprived afternoon at the resort, we decided to book the flight on Wednesday evening right after work – even if that meant adding the cost of an extra night at the resort (which was actually offset by early booking, so it was not an issue at all).

Also, this was the very first time it wasn’t just the two of us: our friends David and Martha (the couple who got married last March in Jamaica, as I reported a few months ago) joined us the following day, which was a nice change of pace since we rarely outside of the country with anyone (we do meet people on the other side – like when we adjusted our calendar during our recent trip to Poland in order to meet with Marta (different person) in Warsaw.

The night we left there was a snowstorm warning, and many airlines (including United) panicked and cancelled a number of flights. Delta did not, but they issued a one-hour delay for ours, but we were still expected to be at JFK two hours before the original departure, so we kept to the plan. We arrived at Las Americas International Airport at around 12 midnight, and got to our resort at around one after we’d gone through immigration and customs.

We’d picked a resort in Boca Chica for two basic reasons: the first was that we had an early return to New York on Sunday and didn’t want to be that far away from the airport, and also we had planned to visit with a couple of friends in the capital.

november2014 026

We dropped our bags in the room and had a quick glass of wine at the 24 hour restaurant and immediately crashed. The next morning (or that morning, depending on how you are counting), we had breakfast and chilled by the beach for a long while and enjoyed drinks by the shore. I took a short walk on the shore, and around 1 PM we headed to the lunch room.

At this specific resort, the food is pretty simple – various options of salad and sauces and of course meats and fish. It’s not exactly gourmet food, but it is plentiful and pretty tasty. Wine and beer are on tap, and you can help yourself. As someone who appreciates good wine, it was hard to drink it there, since the red varietal tasted like ink. The white wine was palatable, and we stuck to either that or mixed drinks made with locally produced rum.

After lunch, we walked around the village of Boca Chica and bought a few gifts and some basic necessities at the local supermarket, which is located a few blocks from the resort.

Downtown Boca Chica is very tourist-friendly. There are various shops, restaurants, souvenir stores, and a small Catholic church nearby – I later discovered there is a very nice Italian-owned pizza shop with great wine and Naples-style thin crust pies – my favorite.

Since Renata and I got our cat Sparky, we both developed a bit of a softer heart for animals – we met a struggling artist who had a small cat, and we included some cat food on our shopping list. Later, we were followed by a stray dog and went back to the market to get a can of Alpo, which it promptly gobbled up as soon as we fed it.  We also stopped at a waterfront bar and enjoyed a cold Presidente beer before we made our way back to the hotel.

The sun goes down quite early in the tropics, so by 5:30 PM it is already dark (at least in November, the time of year when we usually go there).  As the sun went down, scantily clad ladies started coming out – I had read that prostitution in Boca Chica was widespread, but we did not expect it to be so out there. After browsing through the stores a little more, we returned to the hotel for dinner.

We were still pretty tired from not sleeping much the previous evening, so we crashed pretty early and missed the entertainment that evening at the resort – I cannot even remember what it was about, really.

Before leaving to the Dominican Republic I regularly checked the local newspapers online. This year was not as eventful as the previous one had been, with controversies over the appointment of an openly gay US ambassador to the country and a judicial decision that made Dominican-born Haitians stateless. The only things I saw in the news were the story  this 18-year-old mom who was arrested after posting pictures of her toddler drinking beer on Facebook  and a gruesome daytime murder caught on camera (it seemed to have been a botched mugging) at a gas station in Santiago.  I guess it was a bit of a slow week in the news there.

bellevue1What came as a surprise to me was how the country has embraced the concept of Black Friday. Sales were on display on the local paper, and I heard that many folks there were quite busy with their shopping sprees. Speaking to some Dominicans here in New York recently, I mentioned this and they were surprised to hear of it as well.

Last year, our friend Paola told us that folks in her country were celebrating Thanksgiving too – something that likely happened because so many expatriate Dominicans visit home during that time of year and want to have the traditional turkey.  Even at the resorts they include American-style Thanksgiving dinner, which we also enjoyed – the first time I’d had roast turkey in a very long time.

Friday came and we started the day at the beach, moving to the pool for water aerobics later in the day. David and Martha arrived as we were eating lunch, and they joined us in the lunch room. We then returned to the beach and stayed there for pretty much the remainder of the day. We were supposed to meet with a friend who lives there, but Black Friday derailed that plan, so we just hung out around the resort.

november2014 052

On our last full day in Boca Chica (David and Martha were staying until Monday, we were leaving Sunday morning)  we started out by hanging at the beach and then Renata, David and Martha had a Spanish class by the pool – very basic stuff, but it was fun to watch them learn some of the local language. After that, and then we all went snorkeling around the bay. Our first stop was  a deeper coral reef –  They’d given us life jackets but I declined to wear it, since it was just slowing me down in the water, which was not very deep. This gave me the opportunity to see the coral formations closer than just bobbing around on the surface.  We also went to another shallower area close to Oasis Hamaca (the most famous resort in the area), where we saw some more corals.

During the evening we took another walk around downtown Boca Chica, stopping to buy a few souvenirs and postcards. We also stopped at the local pizza place, where we enjoyed some Italian wine alongside a few slices of pizza – I was already tired of the food at the resort by then.

november2014 024

I was aware that we needed an early start so we went to bed quite early – our flight would leave as early as 7:00 AM, so we arranged for a 4:30 AM pickup. We arrived at Las Americas airport cranky from not getting enough sleep. There we got a breakfast sandwich and some coffee and made our way to meet our plane.

We arrived in New York with enough time to take care of a handful of chores, like doing the laundry and making some dinner. It was a great break from our everyday lives and a great chance to enjoy the tropics, even if for a few days.

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

(Source: Europeanfood.about.com)
• 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

Preparation

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.

Recipe:

Mexican-style eggs

(Serves 4)

Source: Univision Delicioso

INGREDIENTS

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

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  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.

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