St. Stephen Cheese

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

To understand how December 26 relates to the ambrosial triple cream pictured above, you have to do a little digging.

December 26, also known as Boxing Day, is earmarked as the date set aside for boxing up unwanted Christmas presents and returning them to their original sources, particularly in the US.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that in the UK and elsewhere, Boxing Day was originally set aside for donating charity to those in need, the name relating to alms boxes located in churches to collect contributions.

And dig a little deeper still and you’ll find that Boxing Day shares its calendar slot with Saint Stephen’s Day which honors the Christian martyr known for his acts of charity (and the connection with the alms boxes).

All of which neatly connects December 26 and the subject of this post, St. Stephen cheese.

Some of you know that in addition to being cuckoo for ethnic food, I am a turophile – from the Greek word for “obsessive cheesefreak”. One of my absolute favorites, and one that always finds a place on my Christmas cheeseboard, is St. Stephen from Four Fat Fowl (in Stephentown, NY, of course).

Some bloomy rind cheeses are mild and buttery, some have a pronounced personality; this magnificently rich, velvety cheese manages to have distinct characteristics of both. It’s made from all natural Jersey cow’s milk and fresh cream and IMHO is at its best when aged and runny.

(If you’re careful and know what you’re doing, you can ripen your prize a little past the “best by” date. Assuming you can wait that long. Or do what I do and get two, one for now and one for later.)


It’s a perfect candidate for the role of soft-ripened member of a well-curated cheese board. Try paring it with fresh, ripe figs for a dessert treat, or as you see here, served on a lightly toasted baguette with local farmers’ market sliced sweet heirloom tomatoes, warm from the sun.

To fully enjoy this dreamy dairy delight, please do not trim away the rind! Would you buy a perfect French baguette and then cut off the crust before you consume it? Of course not – it’s an essential component. Same rule applies here.
 
 
Look for St. Stephen at your local cheese shop or purchase it directly from their website: www.fourfatfowl.com.
 
 

Panettone! Pannetone! Pannettone! (2021)

Originally published in 2017, I try to update this story annually. Here’s a preview of this year’s supplement.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

And now it is 2021. As I write this, we’re still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic accompanied by its subsequent supply-chain issues, extended shipping times, inventory shortages, and inflation. Amazon is offering my two favorite imported 2.2 pound panettoni for $48 and $71 each. Nope, not this year.

If you’ve read my story, An Eggnog Excursus, you know that part of my obsession stems from the fact that this bewitching beverage evocative of joyous childhood memories is only available for an all-too-brief period each year. Unlike eggnog, some brands of panettone are available year-round, generally dozing in supermarkets and even bodegas, but they tend to be lackluster as compared with the treasures that miraculously appear during the holiday season. It’s like envisaging a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner and then being served pot roast instead. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a world away from what you had been eagerly anticipating for the better part of a year.

In the hopes of ferreting out a middle ground, I decided to explore three upscale markets in my neighborhood, specifically, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wegmans.

My extremely biased opinion in a nutshell:

Whole Foods proffered a sampler pack of individual size panettoni in three varieties, Traditional, Limoncello, and Double Chocolate, and was the most disappointing product, faring little better than the stuff you see gathering dust year round on supermarket shelves; they were bready with a tight crumb and not particularly sweet or flavorful.

Trader Joe’s Panettone Classico (cutely Italian-branded as “Trader Giotto’s” like their EVOO), also single serving size, was better: more open crumb, properly sweet, and amply raisined, but still, not anything to write home to Mom about.

Now, how much of those two evaluations can be attributed to the size of the product itself? Is it even possible to make a proper panettone that’s so diminutive? Or is this a case that raises the correlation vs causation question: just because they’re both baked in a pint-sized format doesn’t necessarily explain why they’re both less than stellar. Or does it?

Wegmans, however, saved the day. A larger (about six inches in diameter, serves six) virtually unbranded entry, this airy, buttery baby (see photo) boasted a proper candied orange peel+raisin count, an appropriate degree of sweetness, and an almond glaze topping that was topnotch – sweet and crunchy with plenty of almonds. Actual craftsmanship for under $20.

But wait! There’s more!!

You can be the first kid on your block to score the Panettone Bargain of the 2021 Christmas Season!!!

The secret is waiting within the updated Deep Dive story, Panettone! Pannetone! Pannettone!
 
 

Happy Diwali! (2021)

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Dear Friends,

I can no longer keep this to myself. I am an addict, hooked on mithai. What’s that? You don’t know about mithai? Mithai are Indian sweets and since Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is upon us, I can think of no better time than now to tell you my tale. So gather round your diyas and check out my post “Indian Sweets 101: Meeting Mithai” right here on ethnojunkie.com!
 
 
दिवाली मुबारक
Happy Diwali!
 
 

Warung Selasa

In Indonesia, a warung is a small, informal, often family-owned food stand and selasa means Tuesday.

In Elmhurst, Queens, Warung Selasa refers to the long-running, home-cooked lunch adventure presented by Indo Java Groceries every Tuesday and it is always a treat.

I wrote about Indo Java at 85-12 Queens Blvd here way back in 2015 and I’m happy to report that they’re still going strong. Here’s what we enjoyed last Tuesday:

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Bakmoy Ayam. Tender bites of stewed chicken served over rice, topped with fried garlic chips and scallions along with marinated hard-boiled eggs, accompanied by crisp shrimp fritters on the right. The cooking broth is served on the side to be mixed in, the dark sauce is shrimp paste and the red condiment is spicy sambal.


Soto Daging. A rich soup with chunks of beef, liver, and tripe kicked up with turmeric, herbs and spices. Rice on the side with more crispy bits on top.

Call 718-779-2241 to order ahead.

(And after lunch, be sure to check out the delicious Indonesian desserts inside the shop!)
 
 

A Fish Story

If you’re wandering around Greenpoint in Brooklyn searching for Polish and Eastern European goodies, you’ve probably covered the relevant sections of Manhattan and Nassau Avenues – but you may not know about AS Warehouse at 276 McGuinness Blvd because it’s somewhat isolated, about a block off the beaten path. “Warehouse” describes the physical plant pretty accurately: the place is huge and is anything but welcoming. I’m not suggesting that it’s a must-visit or the best in the neighborhood, but they do stock a variety of items that might not be found in other markets nearby.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Since I like herring and on-site decisions are anathema to me, I bought one of each kind from Seko, a Polish brand, to be sampled across a few days.


The first one I opened was Koreczki Śledziowe po Meksykańsku (lower right in the first photo), Herring Corks Mexican Style, because it was the most intriguing. Ossssstry smak means ssssspicy taste (although the chili pepper on the label would have afforded sufficient giveaway) and it featured marinated onions, also depicted on the label.


I unrolled two of the “corks” to give you an idea of the product. In all cases, the filets were very yielding and a little fishy – which is to say that they’re not the sweet Vita herring filets in wine sauce that you might know from the refrigerator aisle in the supermarket. (Note that sugar is the fourth ingredient on the label but you couldn’t prove it by me.) The oil was slightly spicy; the onions weren’t especially sharp but they did provide a welcome foil to the modest heat, not to mention the overall texture. Okay, but not my fave.


Next up was Śledzik na Okrągło po Myśliwsku (moving counterclockwise, upper right) translated as Round ‘n’ Round Herring with Onion and Mushroom Stuffing (okrągło means round, myśliwsku means hunter style, which I gather implies mushrooms and tomato).


After one taste, I quickly realized that all of these herrings would essentially be the same but with a dollop of different stuff in each container and I’d better get creative with them if I didn’t want to bore you or myself. So I gave a nod to presentation in this round. The onion and mushroom “stuffing” is the clump in the middle.


All right, so presentation alone wasn’t going to cut it. I had to do something to the fish itself. I opened the Śledzik na Okrągło w Oleju Wiejskim (upper left) translated as Round ‘n’ Round Herring with Countryside Oil – another shot of onion in this one along with some red bell pepper.

I chopped the herring, incorporated the adjunct vegetables plus dill weed, dill seed, celery and scallion, and spread it over a bed of lettuce on rye toast. So Act Three had no serious presentation, but I succeeded in doing something tasty with the herring filets rather than letting them speak for themselves (a good strategy in retrospect since they didn’t have much to say).


Finally, Herring Corks in oil, Koreczki Śledziowe w Oleju (lower left). I decided to pull out all the stops (corks?) with this one and go for flavor as well as presentation.


Unsurprisingly, the unadorned herring was like its mates, so I blended mustard, horseradish, and onion plus capers and scallion for the flavor component, and plated it with Swedish crisp bread and Danish butter, along with thinly sliced cucumber.

Finally got a satisfying lunch out of the expedition.

That bit of garnish in the middle was the kicker though: baby coriander seed fresh out of the garden that played perfectly with the Eastern European themed fish. I had never even seen it IRL, let alone worked with it, but it looked pretty and tasted just right in this context.

But don’t ask me how I came by it. That’s a story for another day.
 
 

St. Stephen Cheese

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Some of you know that in addition to being cuckoo for ethnic food, I am a turophile – from the Greek word for “obsessive cheesefreak”. One of my absolute favorites is St. Stephen from Four Fat Fowl (in Stephentown, NY, of course).

Some bloomy rind cheeses are mild and buttery, some have a pronounced personality; this magnificently rich, velvety cheese manages to have distinct characteristics of both. It’s made from all natural Jersey cow’s milk and fresh cream and IMHO is at its best when aged and runny.

(If you’re careful and know what you’re doing, you can ripen your prize a little past the “best by” date. Assuming you can wait that long. Or do what I do and get two, one for now and one for later.)


It’s a perfect candidate for the role of soft-ripened member of a well-curated cheese board. Try paring it with fresh, ripe figs for a dessert treat, or as you see here, served on a lightly toasted baguette with local farmers’ market sliced sweet heirloom tomatoes, warm from the sun.

To fully enjoy this dreamy dairy delight, please do not trim away the rind! Would you buy a perfect French baguette and then cut off the crust before you consume it? Of course not – it’s an essential component. Same rule applies here.
 
 
Look for St. Stephen at your local cheese shop or purchase it directly from their website: http://www.fourfatfowl.com.
 
 

July is National Ice Cream Month! Celebrate Globally!

The story began here:

Every August, as a routinely flushed, overheated child, I would join in chorus with my perspiring cohorts, boisterously importuning, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Little did I realize that rather than conjuring dessert, I was conjugating it and probably laying the groundwork for a lifetime of fascination with foreign languages and world food.

We lived in close proximity to one of the best dairies in town; it was known for its wide assortment of locally produced natural flavors, certainly sufficient in number and variety to satisfy any palate. Perhaps my obsession with offbeat ice cream flavors is rooted in my frustration with my father’s return home from work, invariably bearing the same kind of ice cream as the last time, Neapolitan. Neapolitan, again. My pleas to try a different flavor – just once? please? – consistently fell on deaf ears. “Neapolitan is chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. That’s three flavors right there. If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.” Some kids’ idea of rebellion involved smoking behind the garage; mine was to tuck into a bowl of Rum Raisin….

There’s lots more to the story, of course. Click here to get the full scoop! 🍨
 
 

It’s Durian Day! (Or Not…)

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Durian happens to be one of my favorite fruits, and while June 26 isn’t officially Durian Day, I agree with Fly FM, an English-language radio station based in Malaysia, that it should be.

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted aphorism about it, “Tastes like heaven, smells like hell” but if you’ve never sampled durian, you might discover that you actually like it; a number of folks I’ve introduced it to on ethnojunkets have experienced that epiphany. There are gateway durian goodies too, like sweet durian pizza (see below), durian ice cream, candies, and freeze dried snacks and they’re all acceptable entry points as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s a post from the past, Durian’s Best Kept Secret, that recounts the story of a little known venue in Brooklyn where an assortment of durian cultivars can be purchased and enjoyed – and I did both, of course.


And a while back, it was my pleasure and privilege to write this piece, Durian Pizza in Flushing, for Edible Queens Magazine.

Happy Durian Day! 🤞
 
 

It’s a Fish Treat! It’s a Candy Treat! Stop! You’re Both Right!

Readers of a certain age will recall the television commercial that aired in heavy rotation for Certs breath mints/candy mints and its relentless, nagging refrain. (Readers not of a certain age can simply take this title at face value.)

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

These dried fish snacks are spicy, sweet, chewy and crunchy – sort of a sesame seed encrusted, sticky-sweet fish jerky. Made from dried fish, sugar, salt, sesame oil, and chili powder, they are utterly delicious and seriously addictive.

The backstory: I was prowling around Manhattan’s Chinatown still in the throes of pondering the destiny of ethnojunkets now that they might actually be feasible again. Many business have disappeared, but for every yin, there is a yang. Case in point: Mott Street’s Aji Ichiban, the Asian candy/dried fruit/preserved snack chain, closed last September, but five months ago Sugartown opened at 63 Bayard St to satisfy a similar audience in the neighborhood.

And that’s the provenance of the treats you see here: Spicy Fish Fillet, Spicy Yellow Croaker, Spicy Dragonhead Fish, Golden Pomfret, and Málà Whitebait. The seasoning recipe is nearly identical for each variety, only the fish differ; some are more gnarly than others, so you might consider starting with the fish fillet, or do what I did and load a few pieces of each into a single bag – it’s self-serve and they’re all the same price – see what you like and come back for more.


These are Black Sesame Fish Strips; in this case the fish is very mild cod. They’re soft, chewy, sweet, and you’ll be tempted to play pick up sticks with them, but they’re even more tempting as a snack.


Extreme close up.

At Sugartown, in addition to these fishy requisites, you’ll find dried and preserved fruits, other types of jerky, sour strips, gummies, jelly rings, crisps, Chinese, Japanese, and American cookies and candies and too much more to list here. It’s a shop full of sweet novelties for all tastes and you’re bound to find something that catches your eye and tickles your tongue.

FWIW, if I do revive the Manhattan Chinatown ethnojunket, Sugartown will definitely be on the itinerary!
 
 

Korean Grilled Mackerel

👨‍🍳 NOT Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

No, I didn’t make any of this.

I bought the components and the best I can lay claim to is having arranged them on the plate. But for what it’s worth, it was pretty tasty: Korean grilled mackerel, sweet and spicy pickled daikon, and seasoned cucumbers (fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and garlic). The bowl of rice never made it into the photo. (Actually, that was homemade.)

The source was DNY Natural Land, 322 Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn, a fixture in the neighborhood since 1999. Larger than the average bodega, smaller than the average grocery store, and pricier on average than either, its presence a few blocks from my apartment is a boon at a time like this. The primary undertaking of this Korean-owned business beyond setting out a modest selection of prepared food like the above is providing good quality, mostly organic produce, but they also have a fresh fish department, grab-n-go sushi, some Korean refrigerated goodies like kimchi, a small but reasonably comprehensive selection of Japanese and Korean staples, beer, bulk items, packaged goods, plus the ever-important Tom Cat Bakery baguettes – Amy’s too if you insist, but do try Tom Cat – and of course the obligatory rainbow of fresh flowers parked along the stoop line. Oh, and enough notable brands of ice cream to satisfy every pandemically depressed palate including a wide assortment of Ben & Jerry’s offerings. Have you tried their Punch Line flavor? Deeply flavorful brown butter bourbon ice cream paired with rich, delicious almond ice cream laden with crunchy, roasted almonds and luscious cherries. O.M.G!

But I digress.

H Mart, it’s not, but I can’t walk to H Mart in a New York minute. All this and they’re open 24-7. So you can get that Ben & Jerr…uh, never mind….🙄
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️