Monday, December 23, 2013


I have been now living the south now for about two-half years though with frequent jaunts back north giving the best of both worlds. While I will never fully purge of my northern attitude – more precisely, my New York attitude, I have succumbed to certain things about my new surroundings. I am enamored with the variety of wildlife I get to spy, and now when I see a mouse it is not scurrying along subway tacks all too aware of the third rail, and I have given up of spotting those hooting owls. I’ve become accepting of Carolina bar-b-que even though I still say hold the vinegar/sugar for heat. Many years ago I learned to embrace the place you find yourself and you will find the gems.

A couple years back, at one of the first holiday parties I attended down here a bowl of wet, way too yellow spread sat adjacent to splay of crackers. During a moment of cocktail-chatter mindlessness I picked up a cracker and took a dip. Curious.

A bit too mayonnaise/velveeta for me but I could see the appeal to this spread. I will forever be a food snob, who has lived in too many places to ever romanticize cheez whiz or believe it belongs in any kitchen. I do like the challenge of creating anew or recreating something we have lost to industrialization, and since I don’t possess a Southern mindset I felt completely free to tackle this classic with a foreigner’s eye. It has past muster on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, and has become a staple quick-to-make nibble on my cocktail table minus the Triscuits.

Pimento Cheese
¾-pound smoked gouda cheese - grated
8-ounces cream cheese
¼-cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1-tablespoon smoked paparika
2-teaspoons turmeric
½-cup minced stuffed green olives
1-tablespoon chopped capers
2-tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a food processor or standing mixer, fitted with the paddle atachment mix all the ingredients to thoroughly incorporated.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Shifting TImes

 Life survives even though for many there is an icy coating, and unfortunately it is months away before we see penetrating verdant shoots that signal the worst is behind us. I miss gathering from the yard and hunting farmer’s markets for my daily inspiration. Not to mention, the pleasure of numerous herbaceous notes I have available to me highlighting my inspirations.

I am so hardwired to hunt and gather, and I cannot be thwarted by nature’s need to refresh. Luckily my freezer is full of vegetables and pestos allowing me to ferret through that chest seeing what I will use to augment the vegetables that had to be bought commercially. I usually take this time of year to put together a list of grocers I want to visit and hunt down items I may not of used before -- Indian, Caribbean, Asian markets all find me a seasonal visitor. With the lack of herbs to chose from I shift my focus to spices. In one of my freezers (of course, I have multiple ones) I have freezer bags stuffed with small plastic bags filled with spices. Usually bought in their whole form for that way I get the most fragrant product and have the option to use whole or placed in my spice grinder to be pulverized. Unlike fresh herbs that, if fortunate, give me about a week in the refrigerator, spices held in the freezer will last years.  So, in those bags you will find spices from annatto to za’atar mix.

It seems seasonally appropriate that my stimulation for what I’ll make comes from a frozen box.

Tamarind Braised Short Ribs – yields 6 servings

4-ounces tamarind paste
2-inch stick cinnamon
2-star anise
6-clove spikes
½-teaspoon mace
1-teaspoon whole black peppercorns
3-pounds short ribs (on the bone)
2- stalks lemon grass – cut in half
1-large onion - sliced
2-inch piece of ginger – peeled and diced
4-garlic cloves – chopped
3-tablespoons Thai fish sauce
¾-pound King Oyster mushrooms
¼-pound Enoki mushrooms
1-pound cubed pumpkin
Salt to taste
½-cup chopped Chinese garlic chives

Soak the tamarind paste in 1½-cups of warm water in a small bowl for about 10 minutes.

Place the cinnamon, star anise, clove, mace and peppercorns in a spice grinder, and process until it pulverized.

Using a small sauce pan gently pound the lemon grass as bruising it this way helps release more of its fragrance.

Heat a 4 or 6 quart pot over a high heat, and add the short ribs. Brown the ribs, and remove to a plate. Into the pot immediately add the onion, ginger, lemon grass and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onions lose their raw look. Mix in the pulverized spices and return the ribs to the pot. Pour the tamarind through a seive right into the pot, discarding the seeds and any fiberous material left in the sieve. Add the fish sauce, and turn the heat down to low. Cover, and cook for an hour.

After an hour add the mushrooms, pumpkin and season with salt. Replace the lid, and continue cooking an additional 1 to 1½ hours longer. Mix in the chives, and serve.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


The first of the big gatherings is behind us. Some of us have containers of day-after-thanksgiving-soup in the freezer to be warmed up on a cold December afternoon.  However, personally I need to make sure I keep room in my freezer for containers of cookies. Starting this week I become a cookie-producing machine. They become my go-to holiday host gift; my contribution to the inevitable cookie swap party invitation that comes in and not mention one of the numerous desserts put out on a holiday table.

I have been trying to replicate the rugelach cookies that were always found in my mother’s freezer. She was an avid baker, and daily she would make cake, cookies, or other confectionaries to be stored away in the freezer in the garage. I remember the rugelach nestled in a discarded shoebox lined with waxed paper secured with two heavy-duty rubber bands. They were totally off limits to us kids for they were designated for yet to be announced company or a holiday dinner that was off in the distance. That did not stop my impish impulses – I would eat those cookies frozen leaning against my 10-speed bike in the garage.

Upon the passing of my mother, a few years back, I become the trustee of all my mother’s recipes. I have managed to replicate most of her delectable concoctions but her rugelach has been more elusive. I loved them so as a kid and sneaking them into my mouth has elevated this cookie to cult status for me and they never achieve the same satisfaction though other family members continually applaud my execution. I accept their commendation but I have decided to take the cookies in a new direction. Instead of apricot jam or grape jelly as its filling I looked far afield from the Eastern European flavor profile I know as a kid and have gone Latin, and now I can adore my mother’s re-worked classic without any pangs of innocence lost.     

Rugelach – yields approx 48 pieces

For pastry:
8 ounces (2-sticks) unsalted butter – at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2-teaspoon salt
2-cups all-purpose flour

14-ounce guava paste – roughly cut up
1/2-cup chopped walnuts

To make the pastry dough:
In the food processor fitted with the plastic blade beat the butter, cream cheese and salt together until smooth and light. Then mix in the flour to completely combine. The dough should be a bit tacky to the touch.

Divide the dough into 4 portions and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 to 24 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees.

In a 3-cup sauce pan add ½-cup water and the guava paste. Over a medium flame warm the guava to melt completley. Remove from the heat.

On a lightly floured surface roll each quarter of the dough out to a 10-inch round disk. Brush each round with a quarter of the guava paste and sprinkle each quarter 2-tablespoon of walnuts.

Cut each round into 12 wedges. Roll each wedge up, starting out the wider end. Place the rugalach on a parchment lined baking tray keeping about 1-inch spacing around them.  Give the rugelach a slightly crescent shape.

Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let them cool slightly, and transfer to a cooling rack.