Cooking in the Time of COVID – Lasagna

Instagram Post 3/31/2020

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👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

These days, I find myself preparing a lot of comfort food and that invariably involves a plateful of starches, an extravagance of calories, and a mountain of regret on the bathroom scale the next morning. I try to use ingredients I have on hand so when I do make the now infrequent trip to my local supermarket, I grab just a few items to support some ad hoc recipes and then make a quick getaway. I had a finger of amazing Albanian suxhuk, a dry beef sausage, in the freezer; this particular link was extraordinarily spicy and I reckoned its best use would be as a component of some concoction rather than a straight up snack.

On my way to the market, visions of comfort foods (not the least of which was lasagna, TBH) danced in my head – although my goal was to supplement whatever I had at home frugally, not to open up a whole new can of worms. But that damned lasagna relentlessly persisted in invading my thoughts. Long story short: “just a few items” became several pounds of mozzarella, ricotta, and lasagna noodles, some fresh basil, and a jar of tomato sauce I particularly favor. I rationalized my obsessive compulsive behavior by averring that I could dice the bit of suxhuk and toss it into the sauce. And beyond that, I had some fennel seed at home in the spice rack that I could use to depatriate the suxhuk from Albania to Italy by adding it to the dish.

I’m pretty sure that’s not how the strategy is supposed to work.

Now, you probably think I’m going to end this tale with feelings of remorse because I consumed too much lasagna in the first sitting alone. But no. My first thoughts after the cooking frenzy subsided were that if I could squeeze even a few moments of joy from this blimpifying violation of my own guidelines, it was worth it.

The moral? It’s okay to be a little self-indulgent during the time of COVID. Reward yourself for being able to follow all the new shelter-in-place social-distancing rules with aplomb. Eat whatever it takes.

Stay sane. We’ll get through this together.

Bombay Kitchen – Part 3

Instagram Post 3/30/2020

Last two street food snacks from the ample menu at Bombay Kitchen, 72-27 37th Ave in Jackson Heights, Queens.

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This is a kathi roll, Egg and Lamb Boti to be specific. The marinated, well-seasoned lamb (boti kebab) was a surprisingly good companion to the fried egg, the roti was supple and flavorful and it had a proper chew. Definitely good eats.

Deconstructed (or at least unfurled).

A grilled Bombay Sandwich (yes, that’s a thing), apparently always triple decker, features melted cheese, green pepper and red onion, coriander chutney, and in this case, slabs of chicken tikka. Much moister, and consequently better, than one I had elsewhere.

Deconstructed (or at least toppled).

Bombay Kitchen is an extension of Rajbhog Sweets, so enjoy some kulfi or mithai for dessert while you’re there. Restored my faith in Indian street food!

Bombay Kitchen – Part 2

Instagram Post 3/29/2020

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I guess it all depends on how you define pizza. Dough with stuff on top of it baked in a hot oven? I’d eat that. Everybody’d eat that. But I’d be hard pressed to call it pizza. Heck, I’m hard pressed to call Chicago deep-dish pizza pizza. (Don’t hate me, okay? I went to school in New Haven back in the day when men were men and pizza was ah-beets. But I digress.) This is my second foray into “Indian pizza”. This one from Bombay Kitchen at 72-27 37th Ave in Jackson Heights was definitely tasty and better than my first experience in Floral Park.

Cheese two ways: this is Paneer Tikka Naan Pizza which makes it non-pizza but I like it for what it is. (This is also a non-cheese pull because it’s horizontal rather than vertical; turn your screen sideways if that makes you happier.)

More to come from Bombay Kitchen. Stay tuned.

Bombay Kitchen – Part 1

Instagram Post 3/28/2020

I did a few posts recently about Mumbai street food in Floral Park Queens; the examples I tasted were okay but they didn’t blow me away. So I was more than curious about Bombay Kitchen, an extension of Rajbhog Sweets at 72-27 37th Ave in Jackson Heights, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

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I like chaats in general – actually I like anything with a lot of stuff going on: probably increases the odds of finding at least one delicious mouthful. This is their Dahi Bhalla Chat, a linguistic and geographic variant on dahi vada, a sweet and spicy Indian snack with multiple variations but usually anchored with fried crispy bits, potatoes, chickpeas, onions, and cilantro and kept afloat with yogurt (dahi) and chutneys; a masala spice blend ties it all together. Sweet and savory, crunchy and yielding, creamy and tangy, it’s a delectable study in contrasts.

This instance was one of the best I’ve ever enjoyed because this bready, cakey, doughnutty, sweet, almost floral vada elevated it beyond its rivals. Excellent.

The inner workings.

More to come from Bombay Kitchen. Stay tuned.

Mumbai Xpress

Instagram Post 3/24-26/2020

We journeyed to the far east – the far east of Queens, that is, a stone’s throw from Nassau County – to explore a South Asian neighborhood familiar to my dining pals but relatively new to me (my way of saying I’ll be back soon). One destination was Mumbai Xpress, a vegetarian restaurant at 256-05 Hillside Avenue in Floral Park with over 100 snackish items on the menu, so this post just scratches the surface.

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My favorite of the day was this Tokri Chaat (aka katori chaat). Glossary: chaat is an Indian snack featuring crispy fried dough, potatoes, onions and other veggies, yogurt, chutneys, herbs and spices but the number of variations is legion; tokri means basket, katori means bowl. In this case, the basket is made from fried shredded potatoes…

…laden with cubed boiled potatoes, mung beans, tomato, chickpeas, sev (crunchy chickpea flour noodles) all swimming in the aforementioned savory nectar of deliciousness.

Our destination in part involved sampling some of the many sandwiches on offer. There are countless delicious breads indigenous to India, but these two carbobombs borrow heavily from their American counterparts.

The first comes from the Breach Candy Special Sandwiches section of the menu – Breach Candy is a posh neighborhood in South Mumbai. To my eyes, the triple decker Mumbai Grilled Sandwich would appear to be India’s answer to the Dagwood Sandwich, at least in terms of architecture. Standard issue potato chips.

The top layer consisted of green pepper and red onion; the bottom, sliced boiled potato; melted Amul cheese, a pasteurized processed cheddar product, and coriander chutney all around. I opined that the bread-to-filling ratio seemed out of proportion, but my expert guide and sandwich stacker who has first-hand experience with the real deal assured me that on the streets of Mumbai, sauces are applied more liberally so we took matters into our own hands. Don’t know if Dagwood had such problems.

This Mumbai Vada Pav (pronounced pow) from the Mumbai Xpress Specials section of the menu is a fried potato patty with a bit of red onion for kick, covered with tamarind and coriander chutneys and sprinkled with spiced garlic masala served on a burger bun. Total starcho if you’re into that sort of thing.

This is muthiya (rhymes with shukriya, a Hindi word for thank you – sorry, I couldn’t resist). A Gujarati treat, these pillowy little dumplings are made from grated bottle gourd and onion mixed with seasoned flour, steamed and then sautéed with mustard seeds and sesame seeds. Topped with chutneys, they weren’t bad.

As I said, I’ll do a return visit to this neighborhood. And I don’t even need a passport!
(*All right, all right! It’s moo-TEE-ah.)

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Roast Pig Stir-Fry

Instagram Post 3/27/2020

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

Much of New York City is akin to a ghost town now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Manhattan’s Chinatown alone maintained that dubious distinction. Back then, when I visited to scope things out, I procured a pile of provisions from some of my favorite restaurants, markets and vendors to show my support. Great NY Noodletown, 28 Bowery, has some stellar roast pig and roast pork, so I stocked up and, of course, bought more than I could consume in one sitting.

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Now, roast pig’s claim to fame is its eyeball-rattling crispy skin that (1) swathes its juicy meat and (2) puts a smile on everyone’s face. The catch is, once it’s been refrigerated, it loses all its crunchy charm. So I dealt with the leftovers by separating the skin from the meat and flash frying it (think Chinese chicharrones) to use as a garnish for a stir fry that I made from the meat and some vegetables I still had on hand. Here’s how it looked. Totally worked.

The roast pig as it was on Day One.

Stay tuned; you’ll be seeing more “Cooking in the Time of COVID” posts from me and my kitchen.

Cooking in the Time of COVID – Hong Shao Kao Fu

Instagram Post 3/23/2020

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

A few days ago, I posted about New Kam Man, 200 Canal St in Manhattan, a Chinatown market that’s been open during the COVID-19 crisis and deserves our support. I highlighted a couple of bean curd skin snacks (they have top-notch barbecue and roast meat options too) and I spotted another that I was less familiar with, so of course, I bought it. The label read “Stewed Gluten Kao-Fu 5 Spices”.

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Hong Shao Kao Fu is an appetizing Shanghainese dish made from wheat gluten (kao fu), dried mushrooms, wood ears, dried lily buds, and peanuts that’s served cold and is so good that it’s something I make at home. Now, although the kao fu I buy in Chinese markets looks a little like whole wheat bread, this product was different. But I thought it might be fun to experiment with using it in place of my usual kao fu – even though it’s not an orthodox usage – so I modified my recipe and here’s how it turned out. It’s rather different from the original but pretty tasty if I say so myself. And yes, my vegetarian friends, it’s perfect for you too.

This is NKM’s “Stewed Gluten Kao-Fu 5 Spices” in slices, straight out of its container, before I started messing around with it. Since we’re very much in the throes of coping with COVID-19, you’ll be seeing more “Cooking in the Time of COVID” posts from me. Hope that’s okay. 😉

And a reminder: you can stay current with which Manhattan Chinatown restaurants are doing take out and deliveries during the COVID-19 crisis here. Please give them your support.

🥡 #keepcalmandcarryout #supportchinatown #supportsmallbusinesses

Stay safe and be well. It’ll be a long row to hoe, but we’ll get through this together.

New Kam Man – Bean Curd Skin

Instagram Post 3/19/2020

Continuing my posts about Chinatown favorites:

In addition to all the great restaurants that are open for takeout and delivery in Manhattan’s Chinatown during the COVID-19 crisis (see a detailed list updated daily here), please remember to patronize the markets that are eager to serve you too.

The venerable New Kam Man at 200 Canal St has everything you’d expect in a celebrated marketplace including a complete line of Asian ingredients and kitchenware along with all the necessary cookies and sweets to help us all get through this together. Of course, the sidewalk window displays tempting siu mei (燒味) – barbecue/roast meats like roast pork, roast pig, soy sauce chicken, and ducks galore, but since I’ve posted a lot of duck photos recently, here are two treats from the prepared food section worthy of your attention, especially if you’re a vegetarian.

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Both are made from bean curd skin. When soymilk is boiled to make tofu, a skin forms on top, it’s skimmed off and dried and when it’s reconstituted, it has dozens of delicious uses from dumpling wrappers to “mock” meats. These two examples are unassuming but tasty. The first simply consists of layers of bean curd sheets, rehydrated with water, soy sauce, and sugar, then pressed together and sliced; it’s as much about the texture as it is about the flavor. The label reads “NKM Stewed Bean Curd Pastry”. It’s a little saltier than

these rollups which are similar but a bit sweeter. The package was identified as “NKM Braised Gluten Stick” although I don’t think gluten figures into it and I see rolls rather than sticks, mislabeled perhaps. Either way, yum!

I bought a bunch of stuff from New Kam Man for some COVID-19 cooking. Will post photos ASAP. So grateful that they’re there and open for us; please help them continue to thrive!

Chinatown COVID-19 Update

This too shall pass. Most of us 🤞 will emerge from this dreadful episode unscathed. But Chinatown businesses are taking a double hit because they were unfairly singled out at the very beginning of the COVID-19 scourge and consequently may have less chance of survival. We can help. Some Chinatown restaurants are still doing takeout and delivery and we can show our support by patronizing these establishments.

I realize this table may be difficult to read and it’s hardly dynamic, but you can find an even better, up-to-the-minute, printable grid view here. Note that all listings are subject to change as time progresses.

Learn more at the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation and sign up for their e-newsletter. And check out Explore Chinatown NYC for more information.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the tweets from the Chinatown Business Improvement District @ChinatownNYC.

And you can see my original posts from early on, when restaurants were open but Chinatown was practically deserted here and here.

Stay safe and be well.

#supportchinatown #keepcalmandcarryout #supportsmallbusinesses

Hawa Restaurant

Instagram Post 3/13/2020

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We headed out to Hawa Restaurant, 410 Lenox Avenue in Harlem, for their West African cuisine. This is Senegal’s national dish, Thiebu Djen – spellings vary widely but pronunciation is close to Cheh-boo Jen – and to call it “rice and fish” is an understatement even though that’s the literal translation. It’s made from “broken rice” (easily found at African markets) and if you look closely you’ll see its short grains, but it begins its life as the standard long grain variety that breaks in the field or during processing or milling; the shards are sorted by size and are highly desirable since they cook faster and absorb flavors more readily than whole grains. The rice, combined with chopped onion and garlic, is cooked with tomato paste that imbues it with its deep red color and rich flavor; this version had a pleasant little kick to it, possibly from propping up that Scotch Bonnet pepper. Vegetables accompanying the tilapia were cabbage, carrot, cassava, and eggplant, spent from having given their all to flavor the dish.

The tomato sauce in which the fish had been stewed was served on the side.

Sticking with West African specialties (they also have Caribbean cuisine), we ordered Maffe (you might see mafé), lamb stew (the menu also offers a smoked turkey alternative) in a tomato/peanut butter sauce. Their recipe isn’t overwhelmingly peanutty but it was tasty. No surprise that the lamb was so tender it was falling off the bone.