St. Stephen Cheese

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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.
 
 

Smorgasburg, Prospect Park

First pre-post-pandemic (because it’s not over till it’s over) foray into an open-air food market. If such events proliferated like chain stores, ten year old Smorgasburg would be the archetype; last weekend, we visited their outpost in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, currently open from 11am to 6pm on Sundays.

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“Lobster Garlic Noods” from Lobsterdamus called out to me the loudest from among the 35 vendors. Legitimate lobster, not surrogate surimi; had I noticed the “Add extra lobster meat $4” sign, I would have gone for it. Destined in the stars to be the first pick of the day, I predict you’ll like it too.


“Rooster Nuggets” from Rooster Boy; umami-rich koji marinated karaage fried chicken bites. You can choose from among six sauces, but for me the flavorful chicken didn’t need any help.

 
 

D’oh!

On April 24, Dough Doughnuts opened a new location in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way for a doughnut, but I had witnessed the mountains of accolades heaped upon this legendary bakery and now, since it had found a home in my neighborhood, I braved the lines and selected four:

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From upper left, clockwise:
• Boston Cream, custard filled and topped with chocolate glaze and “soil”
• Brooklyn Blackout, a chocolate doughnut filled with chocolate pastry cream and topped with “chocolate soil”
• Banana Hazelnut, not a filled variety
• Cheesecake with Red Velvet Topping

And for those who crave a look into the inner workings:

Boston Cream


Brooklyn Blackout


Banana Hazelnut


Cheesecake with Red Velvet Topping

Now for the heresy: I’m glad I bought four (at $4.50 each!) because had there been only one, I would have thought, “Damn, it’s a little stale – probably a day or two old”, but the odds of all four being substandard were infinitesimal. They were thick, dry, dense, heavy, bready, not flavorful – actually a little sour tasting but not in a yeasty good way, with a paucity of filling – and not very good filling at that.

And just to be snarky, here’s a photo from years ago of the outstanding product from Doughnut Plant that I hadn’t really intended to include in this post until now.


Top row: coconut crème (filled), peanut butter blackberry jam (filled); bottom: vanilla blackberry jam dough seed, crème brûlée dough seed, marzipan star.

Had the opening been on April 1 rather than April 24, I might have caught the joke. But it wasn’t.

Seriously, people, what am I missing?

If you’re one of those folks who get all twitterpated over Dough’s doughnuts, please explain your passion to me – particularly if you’ve ever reveled in the joy that is a Doughnut Plant doughnut.
 
 

The Trinity: Pastrami, Swiss Cheese & Sauerkraut

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I understand that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Shown here is my chastisement for loading too much cheese into a grilled pastrami and Swiss with sauerkraut sammich. Not to mention the fact that, in defiance of orthodoxy, the only rye bread I could lay my hands on wasn’t crowned with caraway seeds, a venial sin to some, but heresy to me. I do confess that I sneaked some toasted caraway seeds into the sandwich filling to redeem it.


The absolution, however, came from the coleslaw that I improvised from shredded cabbage, apples, carrots, and cambray onions (aka spring onions, alliums that look like bulbous scallions on steroids). Fortunately, this miraculously droolworthy side dish turned out to be that supper’s saving grace.

Salvation through salivation.
 
 
(I think I’ve been writing too much about religion lately. 😟)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Pi Day – Petee’s Pie Company

From a visit to the amazing Petee’s Pie Company in Manhattan back in April, 2018.

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Pi Day is upon us! The official day that celebrates the astonishing discovery in 1988 that the first three digits of the mathematical constant pi (π≅3.14) correspond to the calendar date using the month/day format (3/14).

Provided, that is, that you don’t use the MM-DD format with its leading zeros. Or that you’re literally anywhere in the world outside of the United States where, intuitively, DD-MM-YYYY puts the numbers in order of significance. Or that you’re not enamored of the eminently more logical and sortable YYYY-MM-DD format.

But I digress.

IMHO 🥧 > 🍰 and Petee’s Pie Company at 61 Delancey St in Manhattan and 505 Myrtle Ave in Brooklyn dishes up some of the best I’ve ever tasted, but making the decision about which of the delightful daily selections to choose is neither as easy as pie nor is it a piece of cake. Of course they have wonderful fruit pies, nut pies, and custard pies, but their chess pies are always first to grab my attention.

Chess pie occupies (ahem) the middle ground between cheesecake and custard pie. Devoid of cheese and generally with a little more body than custard pie (often due to the addition of cornmeal) they are incredibly rich and, unsurprisingly, hail from America’s South.

Folktales about the genesis of its name are plentiful. One has it that chess pie is so sweet, it needs no refrigeration and could therefore be kept in the kitchen pie chest → pie ches’ → chess pie. Another speculation involves a tangled explanation involving English curd pies (think lemon curd as opposed to cheese curd and therefore sans cheese) and an American corruption of the British pronunciation of “cheese pie” – a long way around if you ask me. I favor the simpler, homespun tale that goes, “That pie smells incredible! What kind is it?” to which the modest Southern baker’s humble response was, “It’s jes’ pie.”

This incredible black bottom Almond Chess Pie infused with amaretto, topped with toasted almonds, resting on a layer of chocolate ganache and served with housemade vanilla ice cream was the capper on a day so packed with pigging out that we wondered if we would have room, but it was so delicious that it wasn’t a stretch. (Not so my belly, however.)
 
 
Visit Petee’s Pie Company on the web to check out their complete menu.
 
 

German Chocolate Cookies

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

It is my understanding that there are four rules which require strict adherence while living through a pandemic: mask wearing, hand washing, social distancing, and baking.

Now, I have been known to practice the fine art of creating over-the-top cookie porn during the Christmas season (check it out here), but that happens when I’m baking for others and not just myself. Those confections are far too labor intensive to fill the role of a mere absent minded, mood brightening carbobomb with a cup of coffee when the spirit beckons – or when the cats get out of control, for that matter.

Therefore, in compliance with the current mandate, I set out to find a recipe on the interwebs that would satisfy two rules: prep time measured in minutes rather than days, and since it was snowing and I wasn’t about to trudge through waist-high drifts to get to the supermarket, one that only called for ingredients I had on hand – which in this case included oatmeal, chocolate, pecans and coconut (in addition to the universal flour, sugar, eggs, etc. one would anticipate as the conventional anchors of a cookie recipe).

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And behold – German Chocolate Cookies.

Evaluation from the measuring-cup-half-empty POV: German Chocolate Cake is a delicious invention but these cookies did not live up to the promise of their name. They were quick to prepare, didn’t involve a trek over the tundra to get to the supermarket, and were therefore pandemically approved, but I won’t link to the recipe I found because, although they were okay, I suspect you can do better. Then again, given my initial constraints, what did I expect?

Evaluation from the measuring-cup-half-full POV: I saved a fortune because one can go broke buying decent cookies from the organic bodega across the street.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Leftover Gravy, Swiss Steak, and a Flashback

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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This is not a TV Dinner. Nor does it play one on TV; that would be too meta. (Ceci n’est pas une pipe, either.) Rather, it is a refrigerator magnet measuring 4" x 3" that I bought because it struck a responsive chord in my retro heart, a dissonant chord that reminded me of my culinarily deprived childhood during which my mother’s oblivious ineptness in the kitchen relegated us to a daily sentence of Swanson’s TV Dinners and Morton’s Chicken Pot Pies. (Curious? Read “How I Got Into Cooking” if you dare.)


In any event, this all started because I had been staring at my refrigerator pondering how I should repurpose the gravy from the pernil I had recently made (see post) and since that magnet was in my direct line of sight, an itching, quirky thought of reproducing the nostalgic Swiss Steak dinner rushed into my head. So I set out to replicate the dish in all of its 60s splendor, but in a rendition, courtesy of the aforementioned gravy, that would actually taste better than either the refrigerator magnet or its original subject.

Good thing I couldn’t remember what that thing in the middle was supposed to be or I might have taken a crack at that too. It’s possible that the good folks at Swanson never really identified it as anything beyond a “yummy dessert treat topped with a sweet red maraschino cherry!” or words to that effect. My taste memories of it draw a blank. Can’t imagine why.

Happily, and ghoulish flashbacks notwithstanding, the end result, appropriately presented here, was infinitely better than the ur-dinner.

But I still couldn’t resist throwing the canonical frozen pat of butter onto the mashed potatoes.
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Golden Papaya Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Golden papaya squash, reputedly named for its shape, was new to me. Its flesh was on the dry/satiny-smooth side of the texture continuum which, I suspected, might fulfill an unspoken promise of sweetness, but this one needed some help in that department. (Remember: named for its shape, not its flavor.)


What you see here is my effort to rescue the situation with a glaze cobbled together from orange blossom water, brown sugar, melted butter and salt. Mission accomplished.


So there you have it. The final chapter in my thoroughly unscientific, absolutely non-exhaustive, utterly subjective treatise on diminutive winter squash.

Of course, now I’m facing a fridge full of leftover prepared squash, so I guess you know what I’m having for dinner tomorrow, right?
 
Pizza!      Sushi!!      Nachos!!!

ANYTHING BUT WINTER SQUASH!

 
 
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Sweet Dumpling Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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We talked about sweet dumpling squash in the carnival squash post. This miniature charmer was sweeter than carnival squash (contrary to my expectations based on admittedly limited research) and almost a little nutty with a tender texture and thin skin, so I decided that it would make a perfectly irresistible example of stuffed squash, complete with edible serving bowl.


Turned out to be rather photogenic as well. I cut off the top, cleaned it out, and roasted it flesh side down until it was soft; then I filled it with a mixture of sweet cranberries, chewy wild rice, crunchy toasted cornbread croutons, sautéed apple cubes and pecans. Looks good enough to eat, right? I might even consider adding this to my already overstuffed Thanksgiving menu.

Next (and last) up, golden papaya squash.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Winter Squash: Quashing Questions – Orange Kabocha Squash

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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Not merely an alternate color scheme, the orange kabocha squash is actually a red kuri/kabocha hybrid. This one was about six inches in diameter, conforming to the rubric of petite proportions I settled upon at the outset of this project. Japanese pumpkins are often described as tasting like a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato; this was no exception.


Since I simmered the other kabocha, I decided to give this one a straightforward oven roast treatment. Certainly tasty as you’d expect and falling along the dry/satiny-smooth side of the texture continuum, it did not disappoint. I suppose I should have done more with it, but my kitchen has essentially transmogrified into a culinary cucurbita laboratory of late and I wanted a baseline experiment. (Perhaps there’s a reason why chef’s whites look a little like a lab coat. 😉)

Next up, sweet dumpling squash.
 
(For those who are just joining us, the saga begins here.)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️