Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | March 30, 2018

Bringing Together Easter Traditions


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By Ernest Barteldes 

 

Whenever Easter comes around, Renata and I bring together our different traditions for the Holiday: although both Brazil and Poland are big Catholic countries (Poland far more than Brazil, since many in the latter are pretty lapsed even if they say otherwise), the manner in which they celebrate is very different. 

Though neither of us are particularly religious, we do enjoy observing some of the traditions that come with the time  – it makes the time special instead of being just another weekend, and also makes us get into more of a celebratory mode.  

The Chocolate Easter Egg 

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Brazilian Easter eggs at Supermarket

Soon after Ash Wednesday goes by, supermarkets in Brazil are filled with decorated chocolate eggs that are far different from the ones you find in US stores; they came in a variety of sizes ranging from 200 grams (about 8 oz.) to as much as two pounds. Also, they are filled with chocolates inside. Like sizes, flavors vary a lot, ranging from pure milk chocolate to blends with nougat, crispy puffed rice or coconut, to name a few.  

Although they are available on online sites like Amazon.com, I prefer to head over to Astoria’s Rio Supermarket to take my pick. The trip also allows me to stock up on Brazilian products that are not too easy to find, such as cassava flour (to make farofa) and my preferred brands of coffee. 

The Good Friday Codfish 

Though Brazilians are incredibly fond of their meats, it is unlikely you will find anyone eating beef on Good Friday. The tradition there is for the family to come together after 3 PM (when the death of Christ is commemorated in Church) – most workers are off that day – and eat a dish made from salted codfish. Recipes may vary around the country (I have an Italian-inspired Sao Paulo recipe below) , it is something that most people do, so supermarkets stock up in preparation for that day.  

The Polish Easter Basket & Blessing (Święconka) 

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Blessing in Poland

Catholics in Poland have a unique custom of bringing a basket to church on the day before Easter Sunday for a blessing. This is something Renata explained me early in our relationship and that we have followed since. In the basket, you put a sample of the foods you are going to eat on Easter morning, which includes kielbasa (sausage), hard-boiled eggs, bread, babka (a kind of cake) and other items, all which symbolize part of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and also the abundance that comes with the resurrection. Here on Staten Island, the ceremony is done every hour on Saturday, and large groups of Poles and their families lay their baskets on a large table. The priest conducts a prayer for each item in the basket and then asperses them in holy water. The ceremony lasts about 20 minutes, and then families pick up their baskets and leave. According to the tradition, all the blessed foods must be consumed during Easter breakfast.  

Easter Sunday, Polish style 

As most of this blog’s followers know, I am no longer a member of the Brazilian Catholic Community in Greenwich Village, and have also ceased participating at mass altogether at St. Peter’s Church on Staten Island. I am not going to elaborate much on it because those were private decisions.  

But we still do our own Polish-style Easter celebration at home, beginning with a short prayer and the sharing of the blessed foods during breakfast. It is a nice time together, and then we go on with the rest of the day and look forward to the week ahead.  

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Good Friday Codfish recipe

Ingredients

1 lb salted codfish

1/2 pint heavy cream

1 lb spaghetti

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 carrot, sliced

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 tbsp parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Soak the codfish overnight, changing the water often. Cook the codfish in boiling water for 10-15 minutes and shred. Cook the pasta according to package instructions and reserve. Heat the olive oil and add the sliced onions and chopped garlic. When they soften, add the sliced peppers and carrots and let soften. Add the fish, stir and add the cooked pasta and half the parsley. Add the heavy cream and heat through. Serve with the rest of the parsley as a garnish.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | March 22, 2018

Staying In: The Friday Dinner

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | March 8, 2018

Celebrating My Birthday At Home


 

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

Unlike most New Yorkers I know, I don’t like to celebrate my birthday in bars or restaurants for various reasons – one is the fact that whenever a group agrees to split the check, it often never happens in an egalitarian manner, so someone ends up paying more than he or she actually spent. Another is that there have been more than a few embarrassments over the years when I got people together when some situations got a bit out of hand.

After a few bad experiences I just decided that I would follow a late friend’s lead and host my own birthdays at our Staten Island apartment – which I have done repeatedly with the exception of 2017 when Renata and I were in the midst of relocating to our new home in St. George, not far from our previous place at the famed Ambassador building.

I try to keep things simple at these house parties – I don’t cook any difficult foods, and instead opt for simple finger food and dips. There was a time when I cooked an entrée of some kind, but I realized that most of it went untouched, and then we found ourselves with an overstuffed fridge – something that no one wants to have especially when you have limited storage space.

So this year it was no different: I made bacon-wrapped pineapple chunks (a Hawaiian recipe that is simpler than it sounds), a SPAM-based pate and guacamole. In addition, I stopped by Trader Joe’s on Union Square and bought some of their own options in addition to the chips I’d bought there in the first place. My choices were spinach spanakopita and finger-size mini pizzas, which complemented the homemade stuff in addition to the tiramisu cake I bought at the local bakery that is a short walk from our apartment – one of the many reasons I love our neighborhood so much: everything you need is within a few blocks, going from a clothing repair shop to a great pizza place and a deli specializing in more than 100 beer brands, including some hard-to-find brews from Eastern Europe.

I also bought a few more bottles of wine than I usually do just in case, since most of the people who joined us (save for the random teetotaler – we don’t know many of these) contributed a bottle or two, and with good selection of music from our laptop (connected to our sound system), everyone seemed to have a good time.

There are a couple of friends who pooh-pooh about having to come all the way to Staten Island from the other boroughs and suggest having the party at some Manhattan bar. My response, however, is simple: It might be selfish from my part but I guess they can sacrifice once a year and schlep to our place via bridge or ferry.  After all, we do the same thing for them whenever they come up with their own crazy ideas – including an ill-fated fishing trip I would rather forget in which most of the group got seasick and ended up having a miserable time as a result, or the time we ended up in a now-defunct Brooklyn café while coaxing the birthday boy to get out of the house. That’s, after all, what having friends is all about

SPAM Pate

(Source: Iberia.net)

1 stick of room temperature unsalted butter

1 medium shallot finely chopped

1 garlic clove finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried crushed thyme

1 12-ounce can SPAM cut into cubes

3 tablespoons Jack Daniels

4 tablespoons heavy cream

Instructions:

Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in skillet on low heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté until translucent. Add thyme and cubed SPAM and continue to sauté on medium/low heat for about 3 minutes, being sure not to allow any browning of ingredients. Remove skillet from heat and add 3 tablespoons of Jack Daniels. Be very careful when bringing skillet back to heat to Flambé ingredients. Tilt skillet just by your flame and ingredients will ignite. Allow flames to go out on their own. Once flame is out, turn off heat. Transfer ingredients to food processor being sure to scrape out all the yummy bits in skillet.

Bacon-Wrapped Pineapple

(Source: Hawaiian Recipes App from Amazon)

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Ingredients

12 bacon slices, cut in half

24 pineapple chunks, drained – reserve juice

Two tbsp. brown sugar

Two tbsp. ketchup

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. corn starch

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400-degrees F. Line baking sheet with baking parchment or aluminum foil. In a saucepan, mix the liquid ingredients, reserved pineapple juice and corn starch. Simmer and stir until thickened. Wrap each pineapple with piece of bacon, secure with toothpick and place on lined baking sheet. Pour sauce over bites and bake until bacon is crispy, about 20-25 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 25, 2018

The Sunday Breakfast plus pasta frittatta

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 12, 2018

Cooking Through “Traditional and Modern Polish Cooking,” Part 2

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 5, 2018

Cooking at Home for The Holidays


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By Ernest Barteldes 

 

For some time now, Renata and I have been spending the Holidays at home. At first it was just Christmas after a couple of get-togethers often went south in a very bad way (although we do have a pre-Holiday meeting with a longtime friend every year), but lately we have also been staying in for New Year’s Eve as well. 

The reason for that is simpler: in earlier years we had a large crowd of friends and acquaintances who were willing to go to New Year’s Eve celebration towards the city. I recall enjoying events at places like Terrace on The Park in Queens, Arirang Hibachi Restaurant and Numberger Bierhaus on Staten Island.  In recent years, however, many of these friends have either paired up with people who have different tastes than we do or simply have moved out of town altogether, so it has become much more difficult for us to get a crowd together to some kind of party – what’s the fun of being at a crowded bar with a bunch of drunk strangers without your own crowd? If you are going to be just a couple in a crowd, it’s much easier to have your own ‘private party’ at home and sending out an open invitation to friends who would like to join us.  

Sure, some might say that we are being insular and all that, but why would anyone in their right mind pay at least $100 per person to go to a place where you’d spend considerably less on a regular day if you don’t have a crowd to enjoy it with you? It’s much better to cook something special, get some wine and champagne and stay in the comfort of your home with zero concerns – and still catch the countdown on TV as the midnight hour approaches.  

I always try to cook something out of the ordinary for the Holidays, and this year was no different. For Christmas, we started with a seafood medley  made with shrimp, calamari, bell peppers and other ingredients – something I found in a book called Seriously Simple Holidays (by Diane Rossen Worthington, Chronicle Books, 2007) that I happened to come across at a local bookstore a few years back. For the main course, I made glazed whiting fish with red pepper alioli (way simpler than it sounds) that I served with a side of baked potato wedges and wilted spinach. Renata contributed her layered dish of herring, potatoes, carrots, eggs, onions and mayo – the only time she ever ventures into the kitchen during the year. 

For New Year’s Eve I made a large batch of Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew),a simple dish I have mastered over the years, with a side of mashed potatoes and a rice salad. It is quite fun to make it because I prepare it a day early and let the flavors develop until the next day. It keeps nicely in the refrigerator, and you can reheat it for at least another three or four days.  

Whenever I cook for the Holidays, I always make a lot of food so we have plenty of leftovers for the next few days so we can enjoy our time together without having to cook much during the rest of the time. 

Glazed Whitefish with Red Pepper Aioli 

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Ingredients: 

6 to 10 whitefish fillets 

1 cup roasted red pepper alioli 

1 tablespoon fresh chives (garnish) 

 

Instructions: 

Preheat the oven to 450F. Spray the broiler pan with oil. Place the fillets on the pan and evenly spread the aioli to coat the fillets with a thin glaze. Roast for about 10 minutes until the fish is opaque. Preheat the broiler if necessary. Broil for about 2 minutes until browned. Serve with remaining aioli, braised spinach with crispy shallots and roasted potato wedges with leeks and thyme.    

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 23, 2017

The St. George Greenmarket, Staten Island

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 10, 2017

Polish Cooking Adventures: An Amazing Cookbook


By Ernest Barteldes

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As I mentioned in a recent post, Renata’s aunt and uncle Marek and Iwona gifted us with a book on Polish cuisine – during our 2016 visit, I mentioned that I had been looking around bookstores all over but had been unable to find anything in a language I could understand.

Traditional and Modern Polish Cooking is an impressive volume with 984 pages that details various recipes – some surprisingly simple, others that seem almost impossible to make. The author,  Hanna Szymanderska, (1944-2014), made a point of not only describing very traditional recipes from the past but also looking into the future of her nation’s cuisine and the influences it continues to receive from other countries.

On the preface, Szymanderska details how Polish cuisine has changed over centuries, giving examples of how royal weddings brought foreign-born queens to the country, and with them their culinary preferences and probably servants who introduced new ingredients to the royal kitchens. Of course, these innovations trickled down from the aristocracy and eventually made their way to the people, who then moved on from simple meat and root dishes to more elaborate concoctions that included cream, vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower and saltwater fish.

The tome includes recipes that date hundreds of years back that I feel are almost impossible to make – for instance, stuffed wild boar’s head (described as “An Easter table piece-de-resistance”) that involves cutting the hear off the animal, removing hairs and tusks and then de-boning it – something I am sure I would not easily accomplish (also, where the heck can I find a wild boar’s head in New York?) Another that made me cringe a bit was “black soup,” which calls for “bleeding a duck into a pot”.

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Hunter’s Stew (stock photo)

What impressed me the most was the different takes on a single dish – there are eight varieties of bigos (also known as “Hunter’s stew”), including a vegetarian choice made with beans.

Other recipes were simple enough and quite easy to prepare. Finding ingredients is not much of an issue since most are commonly found in local supermarkets – none too exotic or hard to find. Over the weekend I made beer-based pancakes filled with farmer’s cheese. The beer batter resulted in fluffier pancakes than usually achieved with milk, and the filling, which also included green onions, potatoes and yogurt, was light and fresh-tasting.

I also made a couple more dishes, including codfish in mushroom cream (layered with potatoes, eggs, dried mushrooms, cream and onions) and a beet, pineapple, apple and walnut salad in a cream and mayonnaise dressing – a tropical flair to an Eastern European staple.

I am still working through its pages and learning about the history of some of these recipes. As I said before, some of them are unlikely to be prepared in our kitchen, but I will definitely study them in the years to come – and lots of fun to be had with Polish food.

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Krokiety (stock photo)

Tatra Croquettes

Note: The Tatra Mountains in southern Poland are famous for their unique culinary flavors, which are not found anywhere else in Poland. Renata and I visited in 2016 and had a great time there.

 

Batter:

1/ ½ cups flour, 2 ½ cups lukewarm lager beer, 2 eggs, 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp. brandy, salt to taste, ¼ tbsp. each dried marjoram, thyme, sage, tarragon and black pepper.

Beat the eggs with the beer, whisking all the time. Gradually add the flour, brandy, oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Beat slowly for 10 minutes, then cover and leave for an hour. Before frying the pancakes, mix vigorously and add more beer if needed.

 

Croquettes:

200 g. bryndza (farmer’s cheese), 2 tbsp. yogurt, 2 eggs, 3-4 cooked potatoes, 4-5 green onions, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and fat for frying

 

Beat the bryndza with the raw egg yolks, salt and pepper. Mash the potatoes, mix them with the yogurt and chopped onions. Then combine with the bzyndra, Mix thoroughly. Spread some filling in each pancake. Roll the pancakes up, coat them in lightly beaten eggs and breadcrumbs, and fry golden brown. Serve with a light green salad.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 1, 2017

At the 2017 Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 13, 2017

A Polish Wedding – Part 2: “Wesele”

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