3/26/12

Keep Your Hands to Yourself!


Cooky Cat has a pet peeve. It's about overly handling food. Way unnecessary if you ask this particular cat. If you check in to any number of television shows featuring the doings in professional kitchens, you can't help noticing a lot of fussing and primping and fussing and arranging of food onto the plate. The more "haute" the more fingers on your food. Way over the top.



The issue is partly about cleanliness. It's also about not wanting too much hand contact on our plate even under the best of sanitary conditions in the first place. We won't get into Cooky Cat's aversion to those kind of stunt food creations that all but require fingers touch-touch-touching every little tidbit on the plate. Ugh! This bouche is not amused. It's wonderful to be sure, and a treat to the eyes to see something come to the table as a personalized one of a kind work of art. But, hey, it's food. What's all the fuss? We are not probably going to win any friends for saying this among the haute cuisine crowd. Your pampered palettes are so refined and sensitive that you truly deserve every grape peeled, every watermelon seeded. To each his own. Let's agree to disagree.

Ok, then there's the exception to the rule. Sushi. Now that even the local convenience store is offering a selection of sushi, you know there are a lot of hands involved. Used to be that a sushi chef had to train religiously for some time before being placed in service. There's sushi, and then there's sushi. Just to say, we know where to go when we want the sushi.

As a rule the only hands we would want touching our ready to eat selections are those of a sainted grandmama. In that instance, the touching is part of the love that she puts on the table. But, somebody we-don't-know-what-their-idea-of-clean-is mixing our salad with their hands, no way. Please. Furthermore, even with clean hands, toss our salad with some utensils. We don't care how good it feels to you. We're not paying for the cook in the kitchen to be having a sensuous experience with our food.

Cooky Cat is most fastidious in the kitchen. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then Cooky Cat is one heavenly critter. Of course, who would not agree that scrupulously clean is necessary when preparing food. The area in general, the utensils, the ingredients, and your hands. Our rule is that if your hands touch anything that you wouldn't have dear mother taste, then you wash your hands.

We once went for take out into a buffet type restaurant and saw some kid tidying up between the serving trays in the hot table with a dirty rag. Never will go back to any of their establishments. The kid didn't know any better probably, but the manager either didn't care or didn't care to train the lad how to handle food.

Another time in a fastidious ashram kitchen we had someone helping who would continually touch their lips, hair, wipe their brow. Even when very gently asked to refrain, the habit was so engrained and unconscious and the individual broke down in tears. Seems to have been under some emotional duress. As if that gives you a pass on hygiene? Not. In an ashram things aren't always what they seem. But clean is still clean no matter what karma you are processing, don't you know. You can't use the "I saw something nasty in the wood shed" excuse for too long. It's a cold comfort to us that our food arrives after having been fingered up the wazoo, even with clean hands.

We are reminded by a faithful reader how all too often a wait staffer in a restaurant will serve your drink, fingers on the rim. FINGERS ON THE RIM!!! Can we have a hearty "f#*kyou" with that? It's kind of a double bind situation. The waiter or waitress obviously doesn't see the problem. You can send it back and ask for the drink to be served properly. But, who knows what kind of buttons that could push and what the offended party might do to your other items as retaliation. Maybe to not consume the beverage and lay it on them as you leave. Or tell the manager. Ugh! We don't like to go out to dine and have it become an exercise in training the wait staff.

There's the story about the man whose waitress served him his Coffee ... with her thumb in it. He let that pass. Then, the eggs ... same thing, thumb in it. So he confronted her on it. She said that the doctor told her to keep her thumb warm due to arthritis. The man told her to why not put it somewhere warm where the sun don't shine. She said that in fact she did, "But only in the kitchen". 

David Wronski is also such a fussy frisker. Once in a fancy beer bar in Amsterdam a friend wanted to get a hit of the aroma of David's specialty beer. Without even asking the guy thrust his nose down into David's glass. David refused to drink it afterwards. The fellow was all up in arms;  a combination of embarrassed and offended. The point was made though. It was partly about the simple fact that the nose has, well, stuff in it that could drop out. Also, the fellow acted without the courtesy to ask permission. A boundary issue. Sort of like you don't dash over to the next table and reach onto some stranger's plate for a bite of something that looks appealing. You don't, do you?

Even if the kitchen staff has any number of diplomas and accolades we prefer our food be handled as little as possible. Some may not mind. We definitely do. The same goes for the wait staff. Clean hands when serving. After busing, wash those hands again. Handling money, wash 'em.

If you don't have any issue with this particular "fussiness" on Cooky Cat's part, then let's see if you are up for this challenge? Next time you go to your swank eatery why not summon the chef to your table and as a gesture of thanks and appreciation go ahead suck his fingers. It amounts to the same thing, really. Think about it.

This whole thing is something you either get or you don't. If you do, and especially if you manage people in a kitchen situation, get clear on your own standards and then train your staff and keep vigilant. The same as you would insist upon with proper knife skills.


A great lady we knew once held a Thanksgiving dinner. The maid brought in the traditional bird and it slipped off the tray onto the floor. The hostess simply said, "Please take that back to the kitchen, and bring out the other one." In a pinch one must do what one must do. But as a rule, keep those hands to yourself.

Cooky Cat is a Contender!
Press Release from the Culinary Hall of Fame:

Cooky Cat, a Culinary Blog by David D. Wronski, is inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame.



 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE . . .

Mesa, Arizona, USA – March, 27th, 2012 – CulinaryHallofFame.com announced today that  Cooky Cat a Culinary Blog by David D. Wronski is now the eighth Inductee into the Culinary Hall of Fame on their website. David D. Wronski and his many friends and followers voted for his blog until he reached 2000 points, the required amount to be inducted. His plaque will hold a permanent place on the Culinary Hall of Fame Inductee Page and will be linked to his outstanding culinary blog. David is from Montclair, New Jersey and his plaque will also be permanently listed on NewJerseyCulinaryHallofFame.com.


Inductees listed on the Culinary Hall of Fame Inductee Page are also granted access to the exclusive Inductee Lounge, a Forum area not visible to the general public, where a group of highly skilled internet and real world culinarians can interact in fundraising activities, charity events, have the option to serve on the Chefs4Students.org review panel for culinary grant requests, participate in joint campaigns, promotions and more. Congratulations to David D. Wronski and his Culinary Blog, Cooky Cat

About Cooky Cat

Cooky Cat is the electronic front of the house guy for David D. Wronski. This culinary kitty naps near a warm hearth in beautiful historic Montclair, New Jersey.

David himself has had a long time interest and natural hands-on sense for food preparation and service; with a variety of practical culinary experience in the home, as a caterer, restaurant sous chef, banquet planner, director of a large scale institutional food service. Even as a butcher and a baker. (Candlesticks, not so much.) Professionally he is an experienced writer, and Cooky Cat is one of his creative inventions.

Through Cooky Cat Mr. Wronski expresses himself on all matters culinary, high and low. Here, there, and everywhere. Cooky Cat is a fun loving foodie who likes to spice up his writing with humor, artistry and a surprise or two. He aims to make it an interesting read. No telling what that kitty will be up to. But he's not much for lengthy detailed step by step exegesis. He considers that pussy footing. And, besides, the Internet is full of just about everything, a click away. In his own direct full whiskered way, he proclaims. . . “The world does not need another cook book.” At least not one from one Cooky Cat, that is.

What Cooky Cat does is offer direct practical advice, new (hopefully) ideas, and comments and opinions. Even though the Internet is a search away from every recipe and information, sometimes it's good to have a trusty heads up on what's necessary and what's not, where to watch out. All that, wrapped up in a flavorful crisp tasty humorous crust. He is not afraid to express a strong preference or two. But, he always gives solid well researched information. An early adopter of fusion cuisine, expect Cooky Cat to cover a broad territory.

About CulinaryHallofFame.com

The Culinary Hall of Fame is an international culinary showcase for websites, products, services and skills.

The visitors at www.culinaryhalloffame.com have an opinion and they express it daily by voting and writing comments for their favorite TV shows, blogs, videos, cook books, schools, instructors, chefs, scholarships, caterers, culinary visionaries, restaurants, recipes, wine, beer and gourmet websites among others. Their online auctions benefit financially strapped culinary students around the world.

To add your culinary endeavor for free, to vote for your favorites or to browse for ideas, point your browser to www.culinaryhalloffame.com.

3/24/12

I'm A Pepper


David Wronski writes:

The world seems to divide in two along certain lines. One such division is between those who like chile peppers and those who don't. Not talking mild green, red, or orange bell peppers. Talking, the speecy/spicy kind.

If you are on the right side of the issue (that would obviously be if you like hot peppers) then there is no need to be convincing you that we eat these delicacies not so much for the heat, but for the ineffable and exquisite flavor(s) to which the heat is a open sesame or pass not barrier. But, even among chile lovers, there are the macho "bring the heat" types, and those like me who do not see eating spicy foods is an opportunity to prove something.

Back in college days I was visiting at a friend's and his Romanian grand dad taught me how to eat fresh hot long green garden peppers. It was my first introduction to the fact that the heat was carried in the seeds and in the internal veins of the fruit. He would split open a pepper lengthwise, deseed then carve out the line with the vein. Absolutely mild little munchy. Otherwise, blisteringly hot.

Some time later in a proper Taqueria in Arizona I helped myself to a complementary plate full of deep fried jalapenos (You heard of the Mexican who couldn't have any babies? He had a hollow penio.) At first I tried to muscle through eating them whole, but the stinging memory in my mouth and stomach still gives me heartburn. Ouch!

The trick, just like grandpa showed. Only this time I merely deseed and scrape the inner vein away. There remains the delicious jalapeno meat with just a little heat.

Recently I came across a stash of fresh jalapenos on steroids, 3+ inches long. Washed and dried, then tossed in a skillet with a 1/2 inch or so of oil. Fry until blistered nicely, drain and salt liberally. Process on the plate as per instructed. Enjoy.

Here is a link to a wonder list of heirloom pepper seeds you may want to plant in your own garden. Give them plenty of sunshine and the heat will return in some delightful ways. The nice thing about growing your own is that you get a cache of seeds at the end of the season to continue into seasons to come.



Also, in searching around for some more suitable videos, here's something that showed up that will add some spice too . . . (Totally unrelated and maybe inappropriate, I know. Spicy cheesecake.)

3/22/12

Pomegranate Molasses


Make pomegranate molasses a kitchen staple. Use it any time you want some sweet piquant with a distinct fruity presence. Salad dressings, baked beans, sauces, basting and glazes.

Here's what the expert, Paula Wolfert has to say: "Pomegranate molasses is an essential ingredient . . . has a wonderful flavor and a heady aroma, and its thickness and dark color make food look very appealing. It keeps almost indefinitely in the refrigerator. The uses for this thick, tangy, piquant syrup are many. It blends well with walnuts, adds a tart and pungent flavor to beans, sharpens the taste of poultry, gives a clean, tart taste to fish, gives an astringent edge to salads and vegetables, and is a great tenderizer for lamb and pork. It can also be diluted and used for sharp drinks and tart sorbets."



Perfecting the Pizza Pie

Let's just assume there is no one who doesn't like pizza. Really, folks, is there? And we're not going into this in an encyclopedic way. This Cat doesn't do A to Z. As the Grand Old Lady of the South once said, "I have had a sufficiency, any more would be a super abundance". We keep it sufficient. What's more, the world does not need another book (Save the trees!), much less a pizza book. Or, putting ourself on display getting all way wistful about pizzas we have loved, and our travels to places to get this, that and the other best of each kind.

Pizza. We're talking a nice thin round crust pie about 14 inches in diameter that cuts into 6 medium sized slices. Following are some points to consider for folding into your own procedure.

If you are like most, you probably don't make pizza at home more than what, 1-3 times per month; probably to the lower end of that scale would be average. So you just don't have the pie-time to become an expert. Cooky Cat has scratched the surface for you once again and here are the purrific tips he is willing to share. (But not all, mind you. But maybe some day. That's what keeps 'em coming back for more, don't you know.)

Some of what is presented here comes from an excellent article in the NY Times, "The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza" by Oliver Strand. Go there and read. It'll help cut through and give the background for this piece. Most particularly the recipe for the dough. A big tip from that article is to let the dough rise overnight, rather than the typically recommended 3 hours. The recipe yields 32 ounces of raw dough. For our 14" pan we divide it into three portions (not the four suggested by Strand); it covers the pan easily and gives a nice thin but definite crust.

The Oven

We all know about the coal brick ovens and how they produce the high heat and roasty flavor. Even if you can afford one, don't get into it unless it's pizza 24/7 around your place. If you have the scratch (Cooky Cat most certainly do) it would be a nice vanity piece to impress the neighbors and friends; but, again, you should let how you actually would use one of those beautiful things determine whether you buy one, or instead a nice diamond tennis bracelet from Harry Winston for the secretary. Or, that home theater system for Raoul the private Pilates instructor (You know what the kitty is talkin bout, don't you ladies?).

So use your oven and preheat to between 450 and 500 degree Fahrenheit. For a 15 minute bake. If you go 500 degrees check in at 13 minutes to be safe. (Ovens, ugh. Each one is so different, like all my ex-wives.)

The Pizza Pan

We have a 14 inch pan with a million holes on the surface. That's to get the heat in and the moisture out. You can go on a search and think about pizza stones and peels if you like. But, the operative issue again is how much pizza you gonna make, uh?

Get the pan.

Flour

Here once again we have choices. Flour is not flour. There's place of origin, who mills it, grain varieties, growing methods (organic or not), qualities, mill size, percentage protein. Bag to bag of the same item moisture content can also vary.

Caveat: Folks, please let's not get into flours the way we did for wine, olive oil, chocolate, now even salt. Leave that to Martha and her ilk. Not that that's a bad thing. Remember, think sufficiency.

Let's jump the shark: get Antimo Caputo Italian Superfine 00 Farina Flour. Or, any other good Italian brand, but make it 00. There's one from King Arthur too if you want to keep it Made in the USA.

Sauce

Just open a can of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes. There's your sauce. Deep flavor and color, organic to boot. Use straight from the can, or a quick pulse or two in the processor to make more uniform but keep some texture. 


Cheese

Mozzarella. As good as you can get. The kind the local Italian store has in water, fresh made in house daily. Now we are not so finicky that a decent supermarket packaged brand will not do in a pinch. But, don't put a price on love. If you want to get all Martha and bend over backwards, go and make your own.

We cut the mozzarella into half inch cubes. No recommendation on that, just our preference. There seems to be the option of cheese down first or cheese down after the sauce. Cooky Cat has no recommendation on this either. Do it both ways. You decide.

And, for the final touch, some freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano / Grana Padano. Resist the temptation to combine. All's you want is a medium dusting as the last touch before going into the oven. How much, a quarter to a half cup if you have to ask.

Pepperoni

You may think it presumptuous for Cooky Cat to make pepperoni a staple item for your pizza. Hey, what's talking about food without some prideful assertiveness. So we say . . . pizza without pepperoni is only for when you are about to starve to death. Channeling Diana Vreeland.

As to pepperoni, we have searched long and hard.  No pun intended. The best we can do is Hormel Rosa Grande. Every frickin Italian store and market in our current home state of New Jersey seems to sell only that. Armour Eckrich makes a Margherita Pepperoni that looks good too, if you can find it. Of course, quality counts in all things. There could be a local salumeria near you that has its own house made. It's a quest, that pepperoni. Pepperoni lovers know what we mean.

For pepperoni lovers only: Buy the oldest looking (aged/darkest) sticks from the store in the first place. When you get your stash of sticks home from the store, unwrap, wash and dry. Then wrap in paper towels or a clean cloth (no plastic!) and place in the refrigerator for a week or two. That further aging time dries and hardens the pepperoni nicely. If you are not a pepperoni lover, this no doubt will have gone completely past you. We'll light a candle for you and offer prayers.

Don't go away yet. Here is THE big tip. Just because everyone on earth slices pepperoni for topping a pizza into thin rounds does not mean it is the only way, much less the best way. At what is arguably the best pizzeria in the Garden State, Pizza Town in Elmwood Park, they cut their pepperoni sticks lengthwise in quarters then cross cut into nice thick 1/8 inch+ pieces. Don't slice the whole stick at once. A one third piece for a 14" pizza is a good satisfying amount. But you will have your preferences. Try that and see if that doesn't raise your pizza game a giant step.

And, you're welcome.










  

3/20/12

Pasta Tips From Kids


David Wronski passed this along:

My granddaughter Emma sang me a song. "Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a . . . bowl of spaghetti."

Well, silly, it is a bowl of spaghetti, but only when you have a bowl of spaghetti in front of your face. Other times it's a mess of cheesy grits, or a big gabagool pannini.

Which brings to mind the main tip to share if in fact you intend to have life turn out like a bowl of spaghetti.

Pasta Tip #1: Finish the pasta in the sauce. Repeating . . . Finish the pasta in the sauce.

Finishing in the sauce marries the flavors and textures nicely. If you like an avalanche of sauce like our Jersey Girl Michele does, then finish the pasta in some of the sauce and then load on a much as you like of the reserved portion to the individual servings.

But, finish in the sauce. If you don't believe me, ask Mario or Lidia. It's what's done. Now, do it. Silly.

3/19/12

Preparation Time: 22 Days!


If the title hasn't already deterred you, interested but you have your doubts, Cooky Cat says, "Don't put a price on love".

What we're talking about here is glacé fruits. (Around here, glacé is the best defense against fresh fruit.***) There is really not that much actual kitchen time, but the process requires some days of waiting.

Our favorite is glacé pineapple pieces. When you're finished you'll have a whole batch of delicious, sweet, toothsome, deep flavor morsels to make a world class banana split, dice into a trifle, for fruitcake, or just to reach into the the refrigerator to snack when a little sweetness is what the doctor orders.

There's no comparison to the excellence of the flavor of your own home made glacé fruits. Go for it. (Or, you can pay through the nose and have someone you'll never ever know in some factory you don't know where to do the work for you.)


Glacé Fruits

Ingredients:

1 pound of fruit

4-1/2 cups of sugar

1/2 cup of corn syrup

Instructions:

Prepare the fruit: Pit cherries and prick them with a pin to allow the syrup to penetrate the skin; peel core and quarter or slice apples, apricots, plums, pears, peaches; peel and core pineapple and cut it into rings or cubes; slice citrus fruits thinly (no need to peel them).

Place the fruit in the bottom of a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer gently until almost tender. Cook the fruit in batches, if necessary. Lift the fruit out with a slotted spoon and place in a shallow dish. Pour out all but 1 cup of the cooking water (or add enough to make 1 cup), add 1/2 cup of sugar and the corn syrup. Heat it to dissolve the sugar, bring to a boil, and pour over the fruit to cover. Leave it overnight.

Next day, pour the syrup into a pan, add a half-cup of sugar, heat to dissolve, bring to a boil, pour over the fruit and leave overnight. Repeat again for the next five days. On the next day, pour the syrup into a pan, add the half-cup of sugar, and boil, then reduce the heat, add the fruit and cook gently for three minutes. Pour the fruit and syrup into the dish and leave it to soak for two days. Repeat once more. At this point, the syrup should look like runny honey. Leave the fruit to soak for 10 days to three weeks and take a vacation!

At the end of the soaking period, remove the fruit from the syrup and arrange it on a wire rack over a tray. Dry in a warm place, in the oven at the lowest setting, or in a dehydrator until the surface no longer feels sticky.

If you haven’t done enough work by this point, you can also plunge each piece of fruit into boiling water for an instant and roll it in granulated sugar to coat the surface. Store in an airtight canister, tin, or jar in a cool, dark place.

***Self-defense against fresh fruit . . .

3/14/12

"Brew-ahhk-ah-klah-dee"

Whatever. Just give us some Botanist Gin from the Hebridean distiller Bruichladdich located in the Rhinns of the isle of Islay, Scotland.



As you may know Islay is famous for its smoky single malt scotches; our favorite for being the smokiest of all, Laphroaig.

Seems though that Bruichladdich has recently turned to crafting gin. So we procured a bottle and are here to tell you that it is a flowery delight. Click for a full tasting summary. The Botanist is made with 31 botanicals, 22 of which are wild gathered and native to Islay itself. Crafty, indeed. Truly can be called "Artesanal."


Now that the warm weather is advancing toward us, thoughts of that quintessential summer quaff, the G&T, gin and tonic come to mind.

Fever-Tree Brand tonic water is the primo mixer for combining with such a distinctive gin. It's a little pricey if you usually buy brands from the local store. But, it's worth the extra expense, multiple taste factors more than the run of the mill. Fever-Tree recommends a G&T enhanced with only a twist of lime peel for to extract the pungent oil. Nonetheless, we don't want to give up our preference for a squeeze of lime, but will now add that twist of lime peel to ante up the flavor.

Dig it.

3/11/12

Attention Pepperoni Lovers!***



*** We know several of the legions of Cooky Cat followers abstain from such products for various reasons. This is in no way an attempt to dissuade anyone from their path. Just that, when it comes to pepperoni, those who are plugged in are a particular, self-selecting folk. (Can't we all just get along?)



Sometimes, a pepperoni is just a pepperoni. You know what we mean. Unless it isn't. Stay with this, your persistence will be rewarded.

Yesterday we made a trip to the Mecca of Mozzarella , Antonio Mozzarella Factory in Springfield, New Jersey.  Just how good can Mozzarella be, anyway, it's fair for you to ask? Especially in a state like New Jersey where you can practically trip on a ball of Mozzarella just walking down any old street. (Pizza, too.) Well, Antonio's is right up there and worth the trip. It's certainly way good enough. (See the citation for culinary excellence below.)

It was our first time in the shop, so as per standard operating procedure we importuned the man behind the counter. "This is our first time shopping here, do you have any specials for occasions like this?" His casual response, "We have some things." (This and that, forgeddabout it.)

After we selected some house made Manicotti he retrieved a nice size ball of Mozzarella for us from the back. You should know that Cooky Cat is a pepperoni-aholic. So we engaged the gentleman concerning what choices of pepperoni he sold. It seems that everywhere in New Jersey (the USA?) Hormel Brand is the standard. Now, it is a good product, the Rosa Grande variety particularly. And, as aged as possible. But we are always looking for the next level; so we shared, "When I was a boy the pepperoni was very dark and hard. What happened?" Our knowledgeable salesman admitted that it was because makers now use more fat. To extend the profits, don't you know.

Stay with us for more surprises later. But, hey, if you're reading this you must be a pepperoni partisan, so you should like our mash up.

When we usually go to the Italian store for pepperoni, we specify the darkest (oldest) stick or two they have in stock. Low and behold, here is a blogger who is totally on Cooky Cat's wave length. Here he gives instructions for tuning up pepperoni at home (in short, remove any label and plastic and rewrap with a paper towel. Leave in refrigerator for a few weeks to reduce moisture content. Presto. Bravo!).

All right, back to our visit to Antonio's.

After our pepperoni discussion a curtain parted and a new salumeria mystery was discovered. (Maybe not for you personally, dear reader; but, for Cooky Cat it was a first. Later, after an Internet search it seems that this new revelation is in fact currently enjoying its moment in the spotlight as the next new thing. Cooky Cat is not always on the leading edge. But not far from, be assured.)

The counter man asked, "Do you like things spicy, really spicy?" We said we did. "Yes!" From out of the back of the shop (that is where they keep the "good stuff") came a house made aged salumi that has to be the godfather of all pepperonis; and, the holy grail of the pepperoni lover.

It's called . . . 'Nduja. Pronounced variously, In-dooh-ja, In-dooh-yah, and dooh-yah. Per Wikipedia, "'Nduja is a spicy spreadable sausage made with pork. It is typically made with parts of the pig such as the shoulder, belly and jowl as well as tripe, roasted peppers and a mixture of spices. It is a Calabrian variation of salami, loosely based on the French Andouille introduced in the 13th Century by the Angevins.


Kit-chen©.












3/8/12

Molfetta’s Restaurant


David Wronski remembers . . .

Once upon a time in New York City there was a restaurant named Molfetta’s. It was located on 47th Street just west of 8th Avenue. There were a whole lot of other Greek restaurants in the vicinity, along with groceries and bakeries featuring Greek specialties.

The restaurant was on the lower level, with a night club upstairs. The restaurant itself was divided into sections, the main dining area with waiter service, and a smaller section for cafeteria style.

I often went there for the generous, tasty portions and good prices. In the cafeteria section, you were greeted by a man who seemed to be a fixture of the place, and who was probably the head man in the kitchen; a small, square and sturdy Greek with the biggest smile and most hospitable manner.

[Sidebar: And, I know Cooky Cat would agree with this. Of course a restaurant has to have food that you like, then some comfortable atmospherics. But, the service makes a huge difference in the dining experience. To put a point on it, if the service is brusque, rude, hurried, indifferent, unconscious, or lazy then there’s no amount of wonderfulness coming out of the kitchen that would make us want to come back. Put another way, sometimes the most prosaic restaurant meal is a peak experience when the service shows the love.]

Now back to Molfetta’s. . . At the back of the cafeteria section the amiable cook presided over a steam table with several covered pots, each easily 30 inches in diameter. For my delectation, he would happily lift each lid to show what was on for that day. Typically, always something with lamb. Lamb and string beans, lamb with artichokes, lamb and orzo, braised lamb shanks, even roasted lamb head. Also, some sea food offerings like a fish stew, something with squid, and grilled fish. There was a side salad bar with the staple steamed escarole swimming in a lemon-olive oil dressing. It was a complete menu, so there was also the requisite Moussaka, Spanakopita, Pastitsio, Avgolemono soup, classic Greek salad, and the Trinity appetizers: Taramasalata, Tsatsiki and Skordalia.

Here’s a favorite meal. Taramasalata appetizer with some good fresh baked neighborhood rustic whole wheat bread and Retsina wine. When I ordered the roasted lamb head it would arrive carved off the bone. That, and the escarole salad. Food for the gods.

Once at lunch time I had the place to myself. Something unexpected happened that looked like right out of a movie. An attractive young woman came in—also by herself—and sat down near my table. No one else in the place. I was smoking a hand rolled cigarette, and she asked me if she might have one. With a line of dialogue right out of a B movie I said, “Of course, I’ll make one for you; but don’t be intimidated if is rather large.” Cheeky monkey, huh? I invited her to join me and the waiters all got very enthusiastic helping her move to my table; like they were party to some classic cliché beginning of a screen romance. After our lunch she invited me to accompany her to her nearby apartment where I stood by as she geared up to go roller skating. And we met up later at a wild nightclub called Circus (something or other). It was on West 45 near where the Peppermint Lounge used to be. It was a walk on the wild side. Melody Reed was her name. (Really! Some name, huh?) The lady was way out of my league. A great, vivacious and beautiful creature. No further details, just to say . . . that dame was as varied and complex as a Greek salad. As fast and hot as a shot of Ouzo.

Speaking of dames, when I would go to Molfetta’s, upon entering, was a wall of celebrity photos. Melina Mercouri was snapped cavorting at the upstairs night club.

Opa!

3/7/12

Hamantashen

Spring is nearly upon us and everyone is feeling frisky. In India they are celebrating Holi, when everyone you see is fair game to be splashed with scented waters and doused in vivid colorful powders (dress appropriately).

 

Saint Patrick will have his day celebrated soon, not without a good measure of overindulgence of the spirits, small “s”. Not to disturb the Catholics, but how come there is so much public drunkenness in celebration of a Saint; and, on a day that falls in the Lenten period of fasting and abstinence. You don’t know what we’re talking about? Then spend Saint Patrick’s Day evening on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Be afraid, be very afraid. Don’t wear your good shoes. 

Ok, how about those goody, goody Jewish folk. They also celebrate. It’s called Purim. The name itself says, let’s party!

Purim is a spring advent holiday that commemorates how one beautiful woman (Queen Esther) saved her people’s (The Jews) skins from an evil-doer (Haman). Seems Haman was a Persian hoity toity and Esther’s (who was an orphan) Cousin Mordecai (he was a father to her) refused to give him props. When Esther and Mordecai learned of the plot to kill them plus all the other Jews in Persia, Esther told on Haman to her husband, the King (Ahasuerus). Pretty bold of her, since with the King you didn’t approach without an invitation (think it’s like you or me trying to walk the Red Carpet on Oscar night); and, plus, the King didn’t know she was Jewish, but he didn’t have a problem with that after he found out; not like that SOB Haman. (Does anybody see a modern day parallel here! Come on. Instead of bombs, maybe Iran could get a plate of cookies?)

And, speaking of cookies. We finally get to the point. Hamantash, or Hamantashen when you have a bag full. These triangular filled pastries are the Jewish contribution to the riddle, “‘Which end goes up?” As you might notice they are named after the aforementioned Haman. It’s a Yiddish word meaning, “Haman’s purse”. It also goes by another name, “Haman’s ear”. That’s from the old time practice of cutting off the ears of the soon to be executed. Oh, did we mention that the tables turned and instead of all the Jews, Haman got the extreme prejudice on himself. Evil is vanquished, let’s celebrate. Purim. Get it? One traditional practice is to play make believe with costumes and masks based on the characters in that story. Or, if you like, you can go with the idea that the pastry resembles Haman's three corner hat. Go here to delve even deeper.

Hamantashen. (Or, Hamantaschen, or Hamantashen, or Hamantaschen. Oy!) That Talmudic question on spelling notwithstanding, don’t let’s try to handle the deeper symbolisms baked into that great pastry.  Our friend Hilde Stone suggested we ponder “the relationship between the Hamantasch and the Triadic Heart of Shiva”. Sure, we’ll dust of our copy of Paramahansa Nityananda's Chidakasha Gita and get back to you on that. With a stop by at the Vatican to pour over some old texts revealing the Triune mystery ... the Holy Trinity.

But, for this little kitty, Hamantashen are just tasty treats. Or, per Mr. Alton Brown, “Good Eats”. They have lots of depth of flavor, not to denigrate the depth of traditional meanings and symbolisms.

Furthermore, Ms. Hilde Stone did put us on to making our Hamantashen with some cream cheese in the dough recipe. So, you asked for it. A kitty that fetches! Mirabile Dictu! Quelle Surprise!

An Internet search showed essentially two basic recipes. The recipe we are showing is from friend Norene Gilletz, a renowned authority and cookbook author on Kosher cookery. She is called the “Jewish Julia Child”. When she gave us her recipe we stopped looking. FYI, the other basic recipe calls for twice the flour as Norene’s plus sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla. We’re sure it’s also a good one, but friends first in this Cooky Test Cat Kit-chen©. Also, we’re afraid if we did the other version Norene might send us a zinger like, “Oh dough you didn’t”. So we want to stay kosher with her.

Also Norene Gilletz’s recipe appeals because it is so simple. And, undeniably excellent and delicious.

Per Her: Process 1/2 cup cold cream cheese, cut in chunks, with 1/2 cup butter or margarine, in chunks, and 1 cup flour on the steel blade in the processor. Process just until dough gathers into a ball, 18 - 20 seconds. Easy dough's it! I use 400 F for about 15 minutes. It's tried and true!! Enjoy - but cool them first so you don't burn your mouth! (Yes, Mamushka Norene.)


Making the circle of dough: The measurements in the dough recipe make eight 3 inch circles, no more than ¼ inch thick. Cut the chilled dough into half, each half again, then each half again = 8 pieces. Roll into balls then press down between wax paper with the flat side of something that won’t break; an iron skillet or a flat bottom metal bowl. Just not ceramic or glass to avoid breaking. The down pressure is not that forceful. If you want, roll out the dough into a sheet and use a circle cutter.

Shape the hamantashen into the classic three cornered hat shape. Hint: place the filling a little offset from center, near the first top-most fold. There’s a video at the bottom showing a community hamantashen throw down. You’ll get the idea about shaping somewhere in there. Or, go fetch on the Google. Note: give those corners a good pinch to make a seal and keep the shape.

Suggested Fillings: Sweet poppy seed filling, Prune Lekvar, Apricot Jam, Date-Orange filling, Apple-Raisin filling, Fig Preserves. There are as many filling possibilities as there are bakers. But, Poppy Seed, Prune Butter, Apricot, and Raspberry are fairly usual. We like lots of filling; in ours each circle gets 1 healthy tablespoon. 

We would be remiss not to mention a source for properly made righteous bakery hamantashen. It’s Moishe’s Bakery in the East Village inManhattan. Moishe’s is the “King of the Kosher Bakeries.”


The bakery has been there now for some 39 years. Their hamantashen come in two sizes, large and really large. The latter, a meal in itself. But most delicious. Don’t be afraid to venture down to the East Village. It does look like the kind of neighborhood where you have to have a minimum of three piercings to reside there, and at least one just to set foot. But that’s another story. Just let’s say there’s a lot of local color. Some of the people just look, how you say, different. (Moishe’s is just down from where the Fillmore East used to be, and around the corner from another ethnic jewel, Surma’s UkrainianShop. A great place for artisan honey.)

It is said that hamantashen makes you youthful and beautiful. Believe it. Behold. We're thinking the young lady's name might be Esther.


3/6/12

Matzo Brei That Fits


Matzo Brie is a Passover dish that you shouldn’t pass over for anytime of the year. Literally, Matzo Brie means fried Matzo.

I learned to make this excellent dish from the source. On Rivington Street, in lower Manhattan, from the ladies at Streit’s. Since 1925, so they should know from Matzo, Brei and otherwise. Not the ladies from 1925; the operation, Streit’s. But, come to think about it, I got my lesson from those old birds sometime around 1975, so maybe they were in fact originals from the beginning of the company itself.
If you ever want to see something that you will never see under any other circumstances, get a bunch of old Jewish women and ask them how to make a signature Jewish food. 

As with any group of culturally proud people, the ladies at Streit’s waged a subtle but obvious competition for who would be the one whose recipe would emerge as the one I would take away. Mind you, I had no entre there other than coming in to buy a box of Matzos (or, is it “Motzoi”?). 

Meantime, my then wife, the former Mrs. Wronski and my two little lovely daughters waited patiently outside in the trusty Land Rover 88. I think all they ever knew was that hubby/daddy was going into some store to buy some crackers. (The former Mrs. Wronski was from down South — DAR qualified, in fact — and I think of her every time I come within a five foot radius of a Saltine. That’s one salty Cracker.) So now the full story will be known and, hopefully, passed on down to the grand kiddies.
I lived for a short time in South Miami Beach at the old Chesterfield Hotel. It’s still there on Collins Avenue, but not so old. In my time the hotel catered to Brazilian tourists, a crack whore and her pimped boyfriend, and Snow Birds from Canada. The latter were mostly Jewish folks, and the ladies (I don’t know if it’s a Jewish thing?), they also got into a competition over winning my heart with little Bubulas (sweeties) of all sorts. 

But it was the dear Rose Edelman next door to my apartment in recalling whom as I write this brings heart shaped tears to my eyes. She once invited me over to share her Passover Seder. No competition, just friends. She told me she had once lived in a Catholic convent in Brooklyn and made those hand crocheted borders surrounding holy pictures. I had her make me one for a small picture of my Guru. She also knitted me a meditation asana. I used it for some time then sent it back to her with the wish that it would be a comfort to her in her last days. 

God bless my dear Jewish Rose.
I also learned a fair amount of Yiddish apropos. Even a little bit of the Jewish soul may have rubbed off. Mostly, when someone says “how’r ya doin’?” the standard social grease is to say “fine.” But my Jewish soul cries out for something more human of an encounter, not just ships in the night. So now, when I hear “How are you doing?” you’ll hear me say “Ehh?” Or, if I’m in a particularly feisty mood, the truly soulful, “How should I be doing?” So call me pisher? I do try to be a Mensch.
Matzo Brie, oh yes. I won’t go into the whole spiel. Ms. Martha Stewart has done the definitive coverage and it is appended to this recipe. (You call this a recipe, you are probably saying impatiently banging your spoon on the mixing bowl?)
Matzo Brei That Fits

I got that from the idea of kosher itself; i.e., fit to eat. Yes, a wanna-be Jewish punster, I am.
Matzo Brei is made with Matzo, water to moisten said Matzoi, whole Chicken Eggs (we are so foodish these days that you have to specify the kind of egg you be talkin’ ‘bout.), and a pinch of salt. That’s it.
Just be advised that there are as many variations on Matzo Brei as there are cooks, and the topic is as heated as a bowl of Chile at Terlingua. But definitely not so spicy. (Note to self, write the recipe for Polecat Chile I got from my Houston buddy John Geddie which we then served it at a block party in Park Slope, Brooklyn.)
So let me deconstruct Matzo Brei a bit. There’s the basic recipe that I’ve outlined above. From that you have to choose direction, sweet or savory. If sweet, then the key step would be — duh? (Winning!) some sweetener. A small dose of sugar for starters. If you want to go savory, then we add some ground pepper if you like (How many different kinds of pepper do you have in your pantry?) at least, and maybe some caramelized (formerly known as “browned”) thin sliced onion.
Those are the platforms for either the sweet or the savory kinds of Matzo Brei. I will defer to Ms. Stewart or that boychick Mr. Mark Bittman for the full elaboration of the many evolutions after that. (See appended videos below.)
But really keep it Jewish, keep it simple. We are all crossing the desert in a very real sense, but not maybe literally as in the Old Testament. Travel light.
Matzo Brei That (Finally!) Fits

Ingredients

Matzo… 2 whole square pieces per serving
Crush matzo into bowl by hand (Irregular size pieces are expected, to your liking. But not so small as a schtickle.)

Add ... ½ - 1 C hot water to moisten the matzo. Very important, not too mushy, not too dry. Think Goldilocks; just right. Practice makes perfect.

Eggs beaten… 1 jumbo egg per serving, 2 large.

Pinch of salt*

Preparation

Combine well
Use a shallow wide sided sauté pan

Frying

Use a pan sized appropriately for the serving size. The resulting “pancake” should be ½ to ¾ inch thick. (Single serving: 8”diameter pan, 2-4 servings: 10”.)

Melt butter to active bubbling stage (About 6-7 mischigauss points on the butter bubblogaussometer, metric; ok, Bubula? If you need a bubblogaussometer I sell them for $495 plus S&H in white, and off white, and off off white. $795 full tilt stainless. You won’t be disappointed.)

Pour the mixture into said fry pan (It should go in as a loose heap that needs a little nudge to spread into a circular pancake/Frittata kind of thing.)

Let it cook for a few minutes until the bottom is set and there’s a nice browning developed. Then, toyne** it over and finish the other side. Toyne it over: Here’s the trick. Be sure you have a hot pad and long sleeves in case there is some hot oil spill. Place a kitchen plate face down into the pan. Then invert so the half cooked Matzo Brei is now uncooked side down on the plate. Slide it back into the pan to finish the other side. It’s very easy, just do cover your arm when flipping half way through the cooking process.

Slide out the Matzo Brei onto a plate and serve immediately, if not sooner. Serve side B or side A; depends which looks better for serving. (Hey, let’s keep those kitchen secrets.***)

Enjoy! Eat! So you won’t be hungry.

Disclaimer: There seems to be also a divide about what your Matzo Brei should look like on the plate. We prefer the whole pancake treatment. Some do a scramble. The pancake is in our opinion the more elegant version. So, do as you will; but, Boychick, you could make the effort.

*Just what the heck is a pinch of Salt? I had a very prudish Aunty who would never conscience a “pinch” of anything, not even Salt. Her husband was a seafaring man, an old salt, and he stayed out to sea for long periods of time. Always a smile to leave, very sober to return. No pinches at home, probably. But, for you sinners, a “pinch of” in kitchen parlance is what fits between your two fingers. About the same equivalent amount of sand that accumulates between your toes at the beach.

**There’s the story of Mr. Willigstein who at 85 wants to go to visit his long lost sweetheart in Miami. So he should have the peace of mind, he makes an appointment with the Jewish Dr. Berger for a complete, state of the art check up. “Vell, Mr. Willigstein, we have completed all your tests and I am happy to tell you that you, you are a poyfect specimen. Go to your haneybunch in Miami. Mozel tov. No sooner does the ecstatic man leave when the nurse frantically barges into the doctor’s office, “Dr. Berger, Dr. Berger. That Mr. Willigstien who just had his check up. He, he, dropped dead right outside your office door. What should we do?” “Oy vey! It's 'Stein, Stein', not 'Stien!'” Then a little pause and some chin rubbing… The good doctor solemnly pronounces his prescription, “Vell, foyst we toyne him a-r-r-round, so he looks like he’s comin’ in!”

***A fine lady who I once knew, Geraldine by name, told the story of one Thanksgiving dinner when the maid, to much excited anticipation, brought the beautiful big turkey out of the kitchen into the dining room. As soon as she cleared the door she slipped and the golden fowl fell right on the floor. Flags were down for that foul. Without skipping a beat, Gerry said “It’s ok, just pick it up and take it back to the kitchen. And, then bring out the other bird.” (Kitchen secrets.)



3/4/12

Claremont Diner Cheesecake


The Claremont was a most famous diner in New Jersey, the "Diner State". Besides its sweet, chunky, crunchy Claremont Salad it was widely renowned for its Cheesecake.

There is a wonderful back story that you should read entitled How the Claremont Diner Got Its Cheesecake by Virginia Citrano in MyVeronaNJ.com. The story travels from father to son and settles now at the Carnegie Deli in New York City, where Jeffrey J. Jensen fils is the custodian of the original recipe. Here is the recipe as shown currently on the Carnegie Deli website.



Claremont Diner Salad


Claremont Salad Recipe

The once famous Claremont Diner in Verona, New Jersey was known for its eponymous Claremont Salad. (Also its Cheesecake.)

This is a sweet, chunky, crunchy vegetable salad. Think cole slaw on steroids. The keys are the sugar in the dressing and letting the preparation rest a bit to mellow the textures before serving. We found this recipe at Aunt Ruth’s Kitchen  and you can modify the ingredients as you will. Suggestions: Cauliflower, scallions, red and yellow bell peppers, hot chilies. But the original is the gold standard. Try it first. Then go nuts. (We don't recommend nuts in the salad. Silly!)

"Aunt Ruth got this recipe from the Claremont Diner in Verona, New Jersey. They are no longer in business, so we don't think we'll get in trouble for passing along this favorite recipe."

2 tablespoons sugar 

3 tablespoons vinegar 

2 tablespoons of salad oil 

1 tablespoon of water 

1 teaspoon of salt 

Shake the sugar, vinegar, salad oil, water, and salt together in a large jar and pour the mixture over the vegetables.  

1 Cucumber (sliced) 

1 Carrot (sliced) 

1 Green Pepper (sliced) 

1 Bermuda onion (sliced) 

¾ Head of Cabbage (shredded) 

Leave the vegetables and mix at room temperature for two (2) hours. TIP: For a slightly more tender texture, parboil lightly the cabbage, pepper, onion, and carrot. (That's what we do. Think "tender".)

Put it in the refrigerator overnight. Done, enjoy!!