Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 23, 2017

The St. George Greenmarket, Staten Island

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 10, 2017

Polish Cooking Adventures: An Amazing Cookbook


By Ernest Barteldes

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As I mentioned in a recent post, Renata’s aunt and uncle Marek and Iwona gifted us with a book on Polish cuisine – during our 2016 visit, I mentioned that I had been looking around bookstores all over but had been unable to find anything in a language I could understand.

Traditional and Modern Polish Cooking is an impressive volume with 984 pages that details various recipes – some surprisingly simple, others that seem almost impossible to make. The author,  Hanna Szymanderska, (1944-2014), made a point of not only describing very traditional recipes from the past but also looking into the future of her nation’s cuisine and the influences it continues to receive from other countries.

On the preface, Szymanderska details how Polish cuisine has changed over centuries, giving examples of how royal weddings brought foreign-born queens to the country, and with them their culinary preferences and probably servants who introduced new ingredients to the royal kitchens. Of course, these innovations trickled down from the aristocracy and eventually made their way to the people, who then moved on from simple meat and root dishes to more elaborate concoctions that included cream, vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower and saltwater fish.

The tome includes recipes that date hundreds of years back that I feel are almost impossible to make – for instance, stuffed wild boar’s head (described as “An Easter table piece-de-resistance”) that involves cutting the hear off the animal, removing hairs and tusks and then de-boning it – something I am sure I would not easily accomplish (also, where the heck can I find a wild boar’s head in New York?) Another that made me cringe a bit was “black soup,” which calls for “bleeding a duck into a pot”.

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Hunter’s Stew (stock photo)

What impressed me the most was the different takes on a single dish – there are eight varieties of bigos (also known as “Hunter’s stew”), including a vegetarian choice made with beans.

Other recipes were simple enough and quite easy to prepare. Finding ingredients is not much of an issue since most are commonly found in local supermarkets – none too exotic or hard to find. Over the weekend I made beer-based pancakes filled with farmer’s cheese. The beer batter resulted in fluffier pancakes than usually achieved with milk, and the filling, which also included green onions, potatoes and yogurt, was light and fresh-tasting.

I also made a couple more dishes, including codfish in mushroom cream (layered with potatoes, eggs, dried mushrooms, cream and onions) and a beet, pineapple, apple and walnut salad in a cream and mayonnaise dressing – a tropical flair to an Eastern European staple.

I am still working through its pages and learning about the history of some of these recipes. As I said before, some of them are unlikely to be prepared in our kitchen, but I will definitely study them in the years to come – and lots of fun to be had with Polish food.

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Krokiety (stock photo)

Tatra Croquettes

Note: The Tatra Mountains in southern Poland are famous for their unique culinary flavors, which are not found anywhere else in Poland. Renata and I visited in 2016 and had a great time there.

 

Batter:

1/ ½ cups flour, 2 ½ cups lukewarm lager beer, 2 eggs, 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp. brandy, salt to taste, ¼ tbsp. each dried marjoram, thyme, sage, tarragon and black pepper.

Beat the eggs with the beer, whisking all the time. Gradually add the flour, brandy, oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Beat slowly for 10 minutes, then cover and leave for an hour. Before frying the pancakes, mix vigorously and add more beer if needed.

 

Croquettes:

200 g. bryndza (farmer’s cheese), 2 tbsp. yogurt, 2 eggs, 3-4 cooked potatoes, 4-5 green onions, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and fat for frying

 

Beat the bryndza with the raw egg yolks, salt and pepper. Mash the potatoes, mix them with the yogurt and chopped onions. Then combine with the bzyndra, Mix thoroughly. Spread some filling in each pancake. Roll the pancakes up, coat them in lightly beaten eggs and breadcrumbs, and fry golden brown. Serve with a light green salad.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 1, 2017

At the 2017 Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 13, 2017

A Polish Wedding – Part 2: “Wesele”

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 11, 2017

A Wedding in Poland – Part One: Around Chełm 


by Ernest Barteldes

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Stare Miasto

Part One: Around Chełm

Last April we learned that Renata’s brother Mirek was getting married to his longtime girlfriend Beata, and we decided on the spot that we had to go, even if it meant changing our vacation plans for the year – which we quickly adjusted and started preparing for what was to be our fourth time in Poland together just over a year after our last visit.

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Downtown

After a thorough search I was able to find affordable tickets on Scandinavian Airlines via Copenhagen (I tried to get tickets to the new airport in Lublin on Lufthansa – which would have saved a ton of travel time – but prices were too prohibitive). I booked the tickets and started to do some research on what to expect of Polish weddings, but most of the articles I found described how things might go in larger cities like Warsaw but since this case was more of a small town, I was at a loss. I asked Renata about it but since she’d left Poland over a decade before she couldn’t really remember the details I should expect – so my only resources were the various online pieces I was able to search and the advice of a handful of Poles I knew here in New York.

I also contacted the couple and asked them as much information as I could, and they told me it would be a two-day event with a church wedding on Saturday.

The last “Polish” wedding I’d been to had been in the spring of 2010 – a Brazilian friend I played with in church got married to a Polish-born girl. The ceremony and reception took place in Poughkeepsie, a town in  New York’s Dutchess County, so obviously they had to somewhat adapt to US customsWe met at a hotel on Saturday and went to a pre-wedding dinner, which was followed by a breakfast the next day and the wedding ceremony – in which I also served as groomsman,  played bass and sang and finally a short reception that was cut off by 8 PM – nothing like I would later experience in Poland.  

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Istanbul Restaurant

I was glad that for once I had no official function at this wedding –  the two last I had attended I had something – including being best man at a friend’s wedding in Kingston, Jamaica. When I was told I was just a regular guest I sighed in relief – I could just enjoy myself and that would be the end of it. 

We decided to fly to Poland on Tuesday before the Saturday wedding so we could get acclimatized to the time difference and also take care of any necessary preparations. We arrived in Warsaw without incident and boarded a bus to Renata’s hometown in Chełm, which is about a three-hour drive from the country’s capital.

When we arrived, we stopped for a quick drink at Strecha u Woyciecha, a local pizza restaurant next to the bus station that also doubles as a performance space once a month except during summer, when the room becomes too hot for larger crowds – meaning that I would not be able to catch a performance.  After our drinks we dragged our bags to Renata’s folks’ apartment, had a meal and pretty much called it a day after doing some light shopping at one of the local supermarkets.

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Zapiekanka

On previous trips around Chełm, Renata never really left me alone to walk around town on my own (she has never explained me why, but I believe she thought I’d get lost), but on that first morning I went on my first solo stroll around the town’s Stare Miasto and surrounding streets.

The weather was gorgeous so it was ideal for exploring town – and a chance to get some much-needed exercise, and also a chance for Renata to have some alone time with her family.  My first stop was at Empik, the local media store, where I browsed through the music titles and bought two CDs by pop singer Monika Brodka, one of the new talents I had been told about by a Polish ESL student..

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Monument in Stare Miasto, Imbrik in the background

Chełm’s Empik is much smaller than its counterparts in Krakow or Warsaw, but they do their best with the small place they have. I noticed several special-issue vinyl pressings of Queen’s “Greatest Hits” and a handful of other pop artists, but most of the music floor was dominated by CDs, with one side dedicated to international artists and the other for domestic ones.

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I continued walking and stumbled into the local tourist center, where I bought a few gifts for co-workers and friends. Nearby there was Muzeum Ziemi Chelmskiej Gmach Glowny, a space dedicated to a small exhibit of local and foreign amber – including some pieces from The Caribbean – specifically the island of Hispaniola, where both Haiti and The Dominican Republic are located.

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Amber Museum

The museum is free of charge on Thursdays, but as far as I could see I was the sole visitor at that hour – a guide escorted me through the various displays, and after that we went to an upstairs room filled with stuffed animals depicting what I guessed was the local fauna – I smiled to the guide (who spoke no English) and perused the floor for a few minutes feigning interest and walked away – stuffed animals are not my thing.

I felt a bit hungry and walked over to a zapiekanka stand near the bus station (think of a pizza on a baguette with sautéed mushrooms instead of tomato sauce), and tried it with toppings of Polish sausage and cucumbers – quite different from the more standard version with cheese and ketchup that I had in previous visits. It was succulent and quite filling, and then I walked back to the apartment, stopping at one of the city’s 24-h liquor stores to buy some gifts of libation for friends in the US.

This kind of store is common all over Poland to a lesser or greater extent. The largest number I have ever seen is in Krakow, where there is one almost every block. This is not the case in Chełm, but the custom seems ingrained in the country.

My store of choice was Alkohole Salon 24, a cozy shop that carries a nice selection of beers, vodka and wine. I have always preferred to patronize it instead of  big-box stores like Tesco. Inside they have wooden floors and cabinets, and their service is courteous and friendly – even if with my lack of Polish.

Later that evening, Renata and I walked over to Na Bogato, a local bar with comfortable couches and affordable prices. We assumed that would be it for the day, but we got a call from Renata’s brother and his fiancée – they wanted to meet. It was quite late by then, and kitchens in most places were closed. We ended up at Kozak, a charming pizza restaurant that we had visited in previous trips (I think it’s a local favorite – or their favorite). We’d already had dinner, so we just enjoyed couple of drinks while they ate.

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Dilapidated house

On Friday morning I woke up early and went for another walk that took me well beyond the Stare Miasto and found this narrow street with dilapidated houses and buildings. On the right was a small square few seemed to care about down the hill was a building that housed the former synagogue (Chełm had a large Jewish population before World War II) that has since been restored and serves as a traditional Polish restaurant. One house on the street looked abandoned and in great disrepair. I found there was nothing interesting to see there to see so I walked back to the Stare Miasto and stopped at one of the outdoor bars and ordered a beer.

I had my ukulele with me and started strumming very softly as not to disturb the other patrons, but they seemed to enjoy it so I played at a louder volume. I contacted Renata (who had been at a dental appointment) and we hung there for about an hour and enjoyed the warm weather and quiet atmosphere of the bar.

Kebab restaurants are very popular in Poland, but I hadn’t had one there since when I wandered into one in WarsawRenata was more interested in eating Polish food, but I wanted something different, so I said I’d order just for me.  I selected  Restauracja Istambul, where they had the choice of either chicken or beef kebabs served in a wrap.  I selected chicken with spicy sauce, and the order only took a few minutes. It was quite tasty, and then we walked back to the apartment, where I worked on my growing unanswered emails for a while.  

That evening we met with Renata’s aunt and uncle – something we always do when we visit Chełm. They wanted to take us to a water park, but since we hadn’t brought swim gear there was a change in plan and so we went to Imbryk, a new-ish café in the Stare Miasto area. It is kind of upscale with a menu geared towards a younger crowd. During my walks I had noticed some folks having brunch there (at least I assume I was brunch since Bloody Marys were involved), and Renata pointed out that the sandwich menu had been “inspired” by none other than New York’s Katz’s Deli.  I got curious and ordered one of their pastrami sandwiches – which had nothing to do with Katz’s – they were served in two small sandwiches with a small pickle on the side. They did taste good, and since I wasn’t too hungry I did not complain. Their prices are pretty stiff for Poland (PLN 12 for a glass of red wine – quite high compared to other locations in town), so after we finished our meal I suggested heading next door to Na Bogato, where they were screening a soccer game between Poland and Denmark.

Unfortunately for Poland it was a bad loss, and the crowd that filled the room quickly dwindled as folks realize the home team was not going to make a comeback. We stayed there for a while and then headed back – we all needed proper sleep before the big day in Wlodawa.

 

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Wesele

I woke up early on Saturday and had a hearty breakfast before going for my morning walk. As I got to Stare Miasto, I saw there was a group preparing for an outdoor performance – it was a play by late 19th Century writer Stanisław Wyspiański called – serendipitously – “Wesele” (“Wedding”), which was set to begin at around 10 A.M. It was still early, so I walked around for an hour, returned and watched it for a few minutes.

Two youngsters in traditional dress served as narrators while others read other parts – it was not really acting since they were reading from a script, but it seemed amusing enough to the audience, but since I don’t understand Polish beyond ordering food and basic greetings I left halfway through.  Renata was at the hair salon while I was out, and I returned to the apartment before she got back herself, so I busied myself by taking care of a few emails until it was time to get ready to go. We didn’t go in our party clothes but prepared to change at the hotel, which had been booked for all the party guests for the long night ahead.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

I don’t usually cook dinner on weekdays for the simple reason that Renata and I have very different work schedules that would force us to dine at odd hours if we ate together from Monday to Friday, but since my mother is visiting from Brazil this week (she’s also spending time with my sister in Chicago), I decided – on the evenings I wasn’t teaching – to make something a little more special that wasn’t too labor-intensive.

I am a big fan of meat-free risottos – they are easy to make even if it means stirring the pot for the better part of thirty minutes.  Though a bit labor-intensive, it is a meal that only requires a single pot and not much on the side except for maybe some veggies.

I opted to make a mushroom risotto, a dish is a bit of a favorite in our household but that for reasons I cannot explain I haven’t made in a while (probably because I have been experimenting with various other seafood or poultry-based dishes of late) – so I made my way to the nearest supermarket and set out to get the necessary ingredients.

For the side, I made a simple mixed green salad with cucumbers. It was a festive dish even though it was easy and quick to prepare – and quite delicious. I made double the amount of the below recipe so we could have leftovers for lunch the next day – since it is something I do on a regular basis.

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Mushroom Risotto (stock photo)

Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 cup risotto (or long-grain) rice

8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup dry cooking wine

4 cups vegetable broth or water.

2 tbsp. grated parmesan

Salt and black pepper to taste

Chopped parsley, for garnish.

 

Instructions

In a large pot, sauté the garlic in half the olive oil until fragrant and add the mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they release their liquid and it evaporates.  Season with salt and black pepper and remove the mushroom mix with slotted spoon. Using the same pot, add the remaining olive oil and add the rice, stirring for about a minute. Add the wine and stir vigorously until absorbed. Add a cup of vegetable broth or water one cup at a time, stirring constantly, making sure the rice does not attach to the bottom or side of pot until the rice is al dente. Remove from heat, stir in the reserved mushrooms and parmesan. Cover and let stand for five minutes before serving, and serve with a garnish of chopped parsley.

Wine pairing suggestion: Sauvignon Blanc.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 27, 2017

Barbecuing with Friends plus Ernest’s potato salad

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 13, 2017

Summer Cooking: Keeping it Simple Yet Delicious: Penne a La Vodka

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 21, 2017

The Sunday Breakfast: Taking It Easy


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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Having a hectic schedule and not getting enough sleep is part of pretty much everyone’s life in a big city, and that is certainly what Renata and I go through on a daily basis – we wake up early, I make coffee and pack a hastily made sandwich for breakfast, which we either enjoy while riding the Staten Island Ferry or once we actually get to work.

But weekend – especially Sundays – are markedly different. Away goes the weekday rush and a lazier, relaxed approach kicks in, and then I try to make something special: a hearty and tastier breakfast that includes fruit and something creative that we eat while sleepily watching a TV variety show called CBS Sunday Morning – a guilty pleasure featuring mostly older reporters that do long pieces on various themes, including the profiles of actors and musicians, curiosity pieces like the popularity of some kind of food (the segment on Hawaii and SPAM being one of my all-time favorites) or some human interest piece. Though politics is sometimes featured, it is mostly a light-topic show, which is a good escape from the hard news we get on a regular basis (incidentally, it precedes CBS’ Face the Nation, their own politically centered Sunday show).

So it is in this lighter spirit that I look for recipes that can only be enjoyed by taking one’s time – both during the preparation and also eating – preferably in bed.  A recent dish I found on my giant tome of recipes from the dearly departed Gourmet magazine consists of ham serving as a cup for eggs and mushrooms that is quite simple to prepare: place ham slices in a muffin pan, add a mix of mushrooms, shallots and sour cream to the bottom, top with eggs, bake for a few minutes and voila – you have a delicious and nutritious Sunday breakfast.

Here is the original recipe, which I made cut in half: it’s not like I have so many people to feed on Sunday!

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Baked Eggs and Mushrooms in Ham Crisps

Source: Epicurious

Ingredients:

Ingredients

3/4 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped shallot

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

12 slices Black Forest or Virginia ham (without holes; 10 oz.)

12 large eggs

Garnish: fresh tarragon leaves

Accompaniment: buttered brioche or challah toast

Special equipment: a muffin tin with 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups

 

Preparation

 

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook mushrooms and shallot in butter with salt and pepper in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until mushrooms are tender and liquid they give off is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in crème fraiche and tarragon.

Fit 1 slice of ham into each of 12 lightly oiled muffin cups (ends will stick up and hang over edges of cups). Divide mushrooms among cups and crack 1 egg into each. Bake in middle of oven until whites are cooked but yolks are still runny, about 15 minutes. Season eggs with salt and pepper and remove (with ham) from muffin cups carefully, using 2 spoons or small spatulas.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | June 15, 2017

The 2017 Puerto Plata Report: Costambar, Santiago and Jarabacoa

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