St. Stephen Cheese

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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:

Rumpumpumpom – A Christmas Cocktail (2021)

I wrote this poignant piece in 2020 and nothing much has changed. So here it is again ICYMI. For best results, please read slowly.

Merry Christmas to all the lovers out there.
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Okay, I freely admit it. As a countermeasure against COVID stress and concomitant dumbfounding national politics, I started listening to Christmas music earlier this year. Much earlier. Like when it was still light out at 8pm.

It seemed that every day brought some new, depressing wrinkle to the headlines, and in order to survive, many folks went on a quest to find something, anything, that would provide some meaning, a dependable sense of personal stability. For me, at least, there was comfort to be gleaned from hearing the cozy, ageless tunes of a generally happier time that, unlike the news, required no rapt attention, songs that just droned their continual backdrop of falalalalas, hohohos, and parumpumpumpoms.

Now, the essence of an earworm is repetition. Rumpumpumpom. Taken out of context, what does rumpumpumpom even mean? From its relentless, nagging reiteration, I kept sensing that the word itself was on a quest to find its own meaning – that sense induced, to be sure, because it was five o’clock Somewhere – another prophylactic conceit that has gained popularity during these times – and my appreciation for that pastime led me to conclude that the rumpumpumpom conundrum would be solved if only it had a proper definition.

And now it does.

Behold the Rumpumpumpom, my custom Christmas cocktail.

Start with a base of RUM mixed with Hood PUMpkin eggnog, in proportions to taste and proximity to the aforementioned hour of the day. Float a glug of POMegranate juice into the mixture and drag a toothpick (or similar) through it to create a festive holiday design (admittedly not my strong suit). Garnish with PUMpkin seeds. Et voilà: Rumpumpumpom with a raison d’être.

Much to my surprise, it actually worked. Rum and nog are a classic couple and the tangy tartness of the pomegranate juice cut the sweetness of the pumpkin eggnog. By the time I had finished tinkering, it was eight o’clock Somewhere and by then I was easily entertained by the red juice and green seeds accidentally providing unintended Christmassy accents. Time for some photos and a few final taste tests….
And now…it is midnight Somewhere. The quest has been fulfilled, the music has run its course, the room is silent and serene.
And Somewhere, Someone with more artistic talent and a steadier hand could no doubt squiggle a Paloma Picasso-esque Christmas tree to float atop this libation, perhaps even trimmed with a solitary pomegranate ruby at its apex — and we would toast the holiday together.
A boy can dream.

Homemade Christmas Cookies, Day 5 – Linzer Cookies

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Linzer Stars

Finely ground almonds figure into in the sweet, tender dough; the filling is made from red currants that I bought when they were in season and preserved in anticipation of this maniacal operation. Why maniacal? Look closely and you’ll see that the powdered sugar blankets only the outer section of the star, yet the inner red star shines snow-free.

Follow along to see how I do it:

Start with solid backs.

Add preserves around the perimeter but not in the center. (Neatness doesn’t count.)

Match tops to bottoms.

Let it snow, let it snow, etc.

Squirt a blob of preserves into the cutout.

Now here comes the maniacal part: For each cookie, use a toothpick to draw out the five points of the star.

Et voilà!

The cookies are complete and packed up. Here’s the negative space that was left behind!


Homemade Christmas Cookies, Day 1 – Identity Crisis Cookies

When I bake Christmas cookies, it’s the same cast of characters every year. Not that this old dog can’t learn new tricks, it’s just that after I’ve made my signature treats, I usually don’t have enough energy left to take pictures of them. (Although somehow I do manage to muster the energy to consume them!)

So here are some past photos of those goodies. Enjoy!

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Identity Crisis Cookies

So named because I couldn’t decide whether to make chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin or toasted coconut pecan and since I had all of those on hand…well, you get the picture.

More to come….

Panettone! Pannetone! Pannettone! (2021)

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

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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!

Revisiting Little Lima

Part of what I’m calling the “Golden Oldies” series: photos I had posted on Instagram in bygone days that surely belong here as well, from restaurants that are still doing business, still relevant, and still worth a trip. Here’s a look back to 2017.

“Little Lima” is a neighborhood in Paterson, NJ that’s home to America’s largest Peruvian community; I make it out there at least once a year for their annual festival (held around the last Sunday of July) because I’m a dedicated fan of the cuisine.

In addition to the festival and its concomitant parade, the restaurants in the area are assuredly worth a visit any time of the year – the cuisine is authentic, unpretentious, and top notch. Back in the day we explored two that didn’t make it to these pages until now.

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You’ll be singing the Cow Cow Boogie when you taste this! (Extra points if you actually know the song.) There are a few varieties of the Peruvian dish Cau Cau; this is the creole version that consists of tripe and boiled potatoes stewed together with onions, garlic, yellow aji pepper paste and a bit of turmeric to further intensify the sunshiny color. Like the next two entrées pictured, it was on the extensive menu at Somos Tu Perù.

Carapulcra, aka carapulca, is an ancient Andean stew made with pork, papa seca (dried potatoes), yuca, yellow aji panca, garlic and spices. The linguaphile corners of my wiseass brain immediately wanted to attribute its name to some portmanteau of the Latin cara (dear) + pulchra (beautiful), but no, not even close. From Wikipedia: “The original term in the Aymara language is qala phurk’a, which means a stew made with hot stones.” Nice try, though.

Patasca, hominy soup. You can spot tripe on the right and hominy throughout.

This is tiradito from El Rincon De Vanessa. It’s one of many ways Peru does raw fish and it’s not at all like ceviche, arguably Peru’s national dish. For tiradito, the fish is sliced thin like carpaccio, for ceviche it’s cut into chunks; ceviche is marinated in citrus juice that “cooks” the fish, tiradito is raw like sashimi (as a matter of fact, it has its roots in Japan) and is covered just before serving under a blanket of yellow aji pepper paste. Traditionally, it’s served with sweet potatoes and choclo – boiled, plump, Peruvian kernels of corn. It’s delicious and if you’re a raw fish fan, you should definitely try it. If you’re not a raw fish fan, you should definitely try it as well; it might just change your mind.
Rather than listing a bunch of individual links to other relevant posts that have been published here, the Peruvian tag will display them and will save you a good deal of clicking back and forth.
In Paterson, New Jersey, El Rincon De Vanessa is located at 28 Cianci St. and about 2½ blocks away, you’ll find Somos Tu Perù at 94 Market St (with an additional location at 270 Union Ave).

Lunch in a New York Minute

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A post? Now? No time!

Supposed to be making treats for the holidays. Might not even be enough time to get it all done.

But…hungry right now. Need something faster than delivery. Fresh mushrooms in the fridge, rice noodles in the pantry, fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, onions, always a jar of “master sauce” on hand. Boil noodz, chop veg, stir fry, plate.

Time for artsy photo? Nope. Barely in focus.

Time for clever writing? Nope. Not even full sentences.

Lunch served. Back to holiday prep!