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If Only I Could

Deciding to take advantage of Friday night late museum hours, my friend and I made our way to the Rubin Museum of Art a collection of art from the Himalayas.  After a quick drink in their K2 lounge buzzing with after work chatter, we made our way to the quieter hum of Gods and Buddhas.  That’s where we found “The Lord and the Subjects Twenty-Five.”  Disciples of the 8th century Tibetan teacher, Padmasambhava, each figure represents the devotee and the ability they achieved through their dedicated practice of Tantric Buddhism.  Lang Palgyi Sengee was able to make rainbows appear in the sky, Drubchen Khyluchung Loba who was able to attract birds and teach them Buddhist doctrine, and of course my favorite, Ma Rinchen Chog, pictured above, was able to levitate cross-legged and make even stones edible.  Seemingly unattainable, at least it’s something to work towards.

Milking a Coconut

I was looking at different dessert recipes when my cousin sent me one for a Venezuelan bienmesabe, a coconut custard cake that required me to crack one open and extract the milk.  Picturing hammers and machetes and emergency room visits, I thought she was crazy if she thought I was going milk my own coconut.  My next thought was where in New York to find them.  In Miami this would not be a problem.  Though Miami Beach has become unrecognizable in many ways, you still see men pushing grocery carts of fresh green coconuts along red hot sidewalks.  With one balletic move, they’ll swing a giant machete to cut a tiny hole just big enough for a slender straw for a coco frio.  Fresh or dry, I knew my best chance was Essex Market in the Lower East Side.  I found them straightaway at Batista Grocery.  The clerk helped me pick out a few by shaking them to make sure they had water inside and offered to crack them open for me to be sure that the meat inside was still fresh.  For a moment, I was tempted.  It would be so much easier, but I was decided and it seemed a shame not to go through with it.  After all, it was a  pretty common kitchen technique before we were all hooked on cans.  So here are some pictures along with a few things I learned by milking my own coconut… Read more

Switching Things Around

I’ve been playing with Nitza Villapol’s Cuban version of Pollo Frito A La Milanesa.  The first time I made it with the canned tomato sauce and jarred peppers called for in the recipe.  It was good but a little too sweet and a touch too heavy for the summer we’ve been having.  Egged on by the appearance of the Schnitzel & Things truck in my neighborhood, the other fried meat, I tried it again with fresh peppers, tomatoes and breadcrumbs.  The peppers and tomatoes worked well, and I’ll make it often when a larger variety of tomatoes reach the farmer’s markets, hopefully in the next few weeks.  The fresh breadcrumbs however were a disaster.  The cutlets would brown unevenly and required way too much oil.  I decided to do what the recipe called for in the first place and use ground Cuban crackers to bread the chicken.  Though I also substituted olive oil for vegetable and replaced the whole eggs with egg whites, it was the cracker meal breading that offered the continuity from home, transforming it into the comfort food I associate with hot days.  I don’t know why I argue.

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Color Break

With the constant threat of rain, I did my usual food shopping this weekend under a white sky.  Along with the usual Mccann’s oatmeal, baby spinach, and salmon, I’m constantly running out for more peppers, plantains, and vino seco since starting this blog, loving the colors they add.  Walking through the gray today on a search for coconuts (more on that later), I couldn’t help but feel happy despite the rain.  I’d wanted to post this version of Aquarela do Brasil for a few weeks and today seemed like the perfect day, even more so when I read the composer, Ary Barroso, wrote it during a thunderstorm.

Last Minute

I was in the final stretch of making Sunday lunch for my uncle and favorite cooking aunt, debating where I should buy a jar of dulce de leche to add to the polovorones or shortbread cookies I’d made earlier.  The gourmet shops nearby carry the good but expensive La Salamandra while the Colombian stores have a wider selection but seemed too far away in Queens.  I decided to make my own instead.  Though I knew it was easily done at home, I’d always avoided it in the past.  Worried about exploding cans, we’d take them off heat too early and end up with milky mustard instead of a deep caramel (though it was still happily eaten).  I found these recipes on From Argentina With Love for making dulce de leche at home that skipped the treacherous can boiling.  Unwilling to face yet another grocery store run to buy whole milk, I tried the second version where a can of condensed milk is cooked in the top of a double boiler over a pan half filled with water.  Though it takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours, it only needs to be checked and stirred about every 45 minutes freeing me up to work on other things.  Because I’d rolled the polvorones thinner than usual, I watched the cookies closely and shortened the baking time to 10 minutes.  I let the dulce de leche cook the entire time for a thicker consistency.  Too rich to spread, it was the right consistency for holding together the crumbly cookies.  A painless last minute (+two hour) solution. Read more

Una Causa

I was curious when I read Katie Workman’s post in The Daily Beast about the rivalry between Peru and Chile over the potato’s origin.  I asked my aunt, who has lived in Lima enough decades to put down her own roots, if it was true.  When I received an all caps email from my usually soft spoken aunt, I knew not only was it true, it was serious.  I could see why countries would fight over it.  Comforting and generous, potatoes lend themselves to almost everything.  Regardless of its origin, I was curious to know what Peruvians did with them.  She directed me to a friend’s website, Yanuq, an extensive source for traditional and contemporary Peruvian recipes and ingredients.  I started looking at recipes for causas, mashed yellow potatoes seasoned with aji amarillo, lime juice, and oil and then stuffed with anything from octopus in olive sauce to chicken and beets.  Deciding to start picnic simple, I chose the causa de atún, a jelly roll or brazo gitano style loaf filled with tuna, tomatoes, and avocados.  Despite a wide market search, I wasn’t able to find the Peruvian aji amarillo but followed a suggestion on eGullet to use habaneros soaked in milk as a substitute.  Still, my market search did bear fruit since I found fresh chirimoyas instead with the sticker declaring them the product of Chile.  I wonder what Peru thinks of that? Read more

New Arrival

A few weeks ago, I went on a search for fresh masa through the Mexican owned grocery stores in Sunset Park.  I was surprised that despite the growing Mexican population in New York, it wasn’t sold anywhere.  Settling instead for masa de harina, the dried corn flour that can be reconstituted to make fresh tortillas at home, I actually thought of taking a closer look at corn grinders instead.  If I couldn’t find fresh masa, how hard could it be to have my own corn nixtamalization set up at home?  Was it a slippery slope?  If I ground my own corn would end up churning my own butter?  When I read this article in today’s New York Times about Tortillería Nixtamal which now offers fresh masa, I knew I had been rescued from a bad and expensive idea (for now).

Under Pressure

I’ve always associated pressure cookers with Cuban cooking.  I think it was the cha-cha-cha of the old rockers.  I also associate them with terror.  If we so much as looked towards the kitchen when the cooker was going, we were reminded that it could, and very likely would, explode at any given moment.  Perfectly tender carne con papas or terrible domestic catastrophe.  Both were on the menu, and in a few minutes we’d know which was coming to the table.  That’s why I’m always surprised when family or friends recommend them.  Weren’t they scared?  After coming across some pressure cooker recipes I wanted to try and being scolded for not having one when I forgot to soak the beans overnight, I decided it was time to buy one.  Nothing crazy, just a harmless 4 qt, stainless steel Presto, just to have on hand in an emergency.  When I told my mother, she thought it was a great idea having just replaced hers.  Maybe they’d exaggerated the dangers when we were little to keep us shoed away?  She then went on to list 4-5 vaguely terrifying way it could possibly kill me.  Guess I remembered correctly.  Still, I think I’m going to start easy – some platanos sancochados or fricaseé de pollo.  No sudden movements.  You never know when it’s going to blow.

Ajo Blanco

I’ve wanted to post a recipe for ajo blanco since my friend Félix Ortiz told me about it several weeks ago.  Waiting out the garlic scapes and spring varieties in the farmer’s market, I finally tried it when the first full formed garlic appeared.  Trying to incorporate the mashing with the blending with the right amount of water, I ended up with three consecutive batches of garlic milk.  If you haven’t tried garlic milk, don’t.  Consulting Anya Von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table, I was able to figure out what went wrong.  Without a mortar and pestle large enough to really work the oil into the bread and almond mixture, it didn’t emulsify the way it should, either too thin or too grainy.  I switched over to the blender after making the initial paste and it gave me the right consistency in a few whirls.  The final result was smooth, refreshing, and easy.  Typical of Málaga, this creamy white gazpacho makes a great light, mid-summer meal.

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Baseball Break

It seems that when the Yankees decided to move out of the cathedral, they had no choice but to move into Mount Olympus. As a Yankee fan, I’m a bit of a dilettante. I romanticized the old stadium I only visited occasionally while ignoring its season-long limitations.  I thought I would miss it, though I should confess that I did not have a very good record there.  Even during a winning season, they usually lost if I was in attendance.  I was the reverse curse.  I blamed myself for wanting it too much, avoided series with the Red Sox, and just prayed it wouldn’t be total blowout.  I’ve watched the rally clip from Rocky II played on the jumbotron more times than I ever care to remember.

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