New York City’s Chinatown offers everything you could possibly want while seeming completely inaccessible at the same time. That’s why I really wanted to take advantage of the market tour and Filipino cooking class offered by a member of my blogging group, Annette Tomei. Annette is a chef, writer and teacher at the International Culinary Center. Her blog, Wander, Eat and Tell, chronicling her travels and food experiences is always a push out the door, especially when she turns her attention to nearby neighborhoods I can explore with new eyes. One of her trips was to the Philippines to visit her brother-in-law Benjie’s family. While she was there, she spent time in a Filipino kitchen learning from four elderly women who shared their recipes and cooking knowledge in exchange for a promise that she teach it to others in her own country.
To that end, Annette planned today’s class. I met the group at the ICC and we walked over to Chinatown to pick up the final ingredients (and do some snacking you can read about here). The group was made up of Annette; Steven, our writing teacher; Hayley, another ICC instructor; Benjie and his friends, Luisa and Raqui. Food markets in Chinatown can be overwhelming so it was great to work our way through with a sense of purpose and Annette prepped guide. Looking the pictures now, it all seems so vivid. Before today I never felt like I could find the same spot twice, now I can’t wait to go back.
Rambutan, cherries, mangoes, lychees and mangosteens at Tan Tin Hung Supermarket. Read more
The first year I moved to New York the central medians along Park Avenue were lined with enormous bronze statues by Fernando Botero. Not really knowing a Park Avenue without them, I thought the full bodied sculptures had always been there and always would be. It turned out to be a temporary installation sponsored by the Public Art Fund, and they were gone after a couple months. Park Avenue has always seemed empty without them. Today, my mother and I were running to meet my sister when we came across this Botero in a walkway along 57th Street. I don’t know how much longer it will be there, but it’s wonderful to come across his public installations unexpectedly and know his figures are still roaming the City.
Fernando Botero, Rape of Europa, 2007
I love camarones enchilados or creole-style shrimp. Growing up, it was the perfect every day dish thrown together at the last minute. On a good day, we had it with fluffy white race and maduros. On a rushed day, frozen shrimp and Cuban crackers. It was one of the first things I’d tried to make on my own, but there was always something missing. I looked at a few different versions pulling different elements from each. What really made the difference though was Alex Garcia’s recommendation from In a Cuban Kitchen to add the shrimp at the very end, allowing the flavors in the sauce to develop without over cooking the shrimp. Spicy but sweet and well worth the time.
When my cousin Marta, who lives in Spain, asked if I’d tried the Thermomix, a “kitchen robot” she’d received as a gift that did “almost everything”, I thought she was referring to a souped up crock pot I might look at the next time I was in a Williams-Sonoma or wishlisting on Amazon. My curiosity was piqued when I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Snaring the Elusive Thermomix” by Raymond Sokolov. Learning that it was in fact a robot that did do almost everything and simultaneously too, I was disappointed to read that it wasn’t available in the U.S. By the time I found Spanish food blogs that listed both regular and Thermomix recipes on their sites, I was feeling a little deprived. Not of a machine I might not need after all, but of the Jetsons future I thought we’d all have by now. I’ve asked Marta to let me know what it’s like to cook with a Thermomix and how she uses it. In the meantime, I’ve posted a clip of how I imagine it works until I know differently.
Now that the heat is not just outside but very much inside my apartment, I’ve started thinking about ways to cool off this summer. When I came across this New York Times recipe for agua fresca, I knew that I was going to be doing a lot of pureeing in the next few months. I made the cantaloupe agua fresca for the park today, following the directions closely, and loved the results. There are other versions where you don’t strain after blending or add more fruit at the end which I’ll definitely try next time. Mostly, I love having an excuse to buy any farmer’s market fruit too pretty to leave behind (not unlike the fat little bird sugar dispenser I found this weekend). Maybe the heat is getting to me after all?
I don’t think they could have possibly been as happy to see me, as I was to see them. The women running the grilled corn stand at the Brooklyn Flea never, ever want for customers, but I really, really want their corn. This winter the market moved indoors to DUMBO but there was no place for the Red Hook Vendors among the jaded hipsters walking their architectural dogs. That made the open air return of the Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School location in Fort Greene that much sweeter. I’d heard about the fresh grilled corn slathered in Mexican crema and cotija cheese and topped with chile when some friends, who insisted it was Cuban, kept asking me where they could find it. It’s actually a Mexican preparation that I finally tried last year. I’ve been daydreaming about it since April, knowing that soon I’d be back on steps of the high school enjoying the first corn of the summer. I noticed today that this is also the best place to watch the vendors at work. Perfectly preparing each one with just the right amount of cheese and chili powder, calmly facing the long lines that never end.
I discovered Despana by accident, looking for something else, in the disorienting cross streets where Little Italy becomes Soho. A small gourmet shop and wholesaler specializing in Spanish imports, it’s lined on one side with olive oils, jars of preserves, canned delicacies and Valor hot chocolate and cases of cheese and cured meats on the other. There’s also a small lunch counter offering pintxos, tortillas, bocadillos, salads and desserts. Basically, everything you worried you’d never find when your year abroad ended. Now that I have found it, I plan to seek it with purpose, again and again and again.
I live a few blocks away from Cobble Hill’s Smith Street where you can’t swing a baguette without hitting three French bistros. With my mother visiting and my blog in mind, we decided to try Coco Roco, a Peruvian restaurant, for lunch instead. After my last few deep fried days, I ordered the Peruvian paella with mixed seafood and chorizo although next time I will definitely have the arroz chaufa de puerco, a fried rice with shredded pork that was tender and well seasoned. Simple dishes, I loved the brightness the cilantro, fresh peppers and corn added to each. Read more
This past week was my older sister Cami’s birthday, so I have been wound up planning an informal, low-key picnic in Central Park for 40 people. When I sent out the evite, I was worried that people wouldn’t be able to make it. When the RSVPs climbed, I was worried they all meant it when they said they were. I did my best to anticipate any logistical problems – were the bathrooms at the Delacorte Theater open, were leashed dogs allowed on the Great Lawn, were you allowed to hang a piñata from Central Park’s look-but-don’t-climb trees? (Answers: Yes, Yes, and Not if they see you). I prayed for sun but when I woke up to a gray Saturday morning, I was overwhelmed by the enormous number of things left to do for a picnic that was so obviously going be awash in early afternoon thunderstorms and soaked donkey piñatas.
I wanted Cami to have the classic Cuban spread – cangrejitos (crab-shaped puffs filled with sweet ham), crispy croquetas, meat filled empanadas, bocaditos (small white bread sandwiches filled with flavored cream cheese), and pastelitos de guayaba. Armed with 4 sheets of puff pastry, 3 bricks of cream cheese, ham and picadillo fillings, and the last of the homemade guava paste I’d brought from home, I set to work. To add a further complication, I was also settling in my mother and Chiqui who had arrived the night before for a two week stay (Chiqui being the 8 pound chihuahua who has replaced me in my mother’s affections).
The few hours I had given myself to prepare evaporated between finding extra closet space, outlets for chargers and rolling out emapanada dough. With just an hour to go, it seemed hopeless, and I started weighing the evils of less food versus having friends wandering the park looking for a spot that hadn’t been staked out. Then someone, probably Chiqui, set my iTunes to Celia Cruz. Now while listening to Celia cannot solve every problem, it does make unhappiness almost impossible. Somewhere Between Cao Cao Mani Picao and Oye Mi Rumba, time slowed enough for me to finish my first empanadas and my mother to cut the crusts of my sister’s favorite tuna bocaditos. By the time I climbed up the subway stairs to 81st Street & Central Park West with a box full of Cuban treats and five minutes to spare, I could finally see the blue skies I first felt when Celia started singing.
I had asked my mother to bring me one bag of yucca flour from Miami but received five bags of Brazilian farofa instead. So naturally I was interested to read Seth Kugel’s New York Times article about how São Paulo’s chefs were finding inspiration in traditional ingredients writing:
…the idea that Brazilian cuisine can hold its own is slowly taking hold in São Paulo, thanks to a new generation of chefs looking outward for technique but inward for ingredients and tradition. Attuned to the necessities of presentation by their (mostly) European training and conscious that the heaviness of traditional Brazilian dishes will never pass muster with the gym-going elite, they have created a movement that has given their own nation a new sense of pride in its culinary heritage. Read more