I don’t know about you but I like winter. I know there are haters out there, those who dislike the dark and cold days that come with winter. I see it differently! To me winter means red wine and “brown spirits” to keep me warm along with lots hearty food. I love this time of year!
So as I look out my window onto the newest blanket of white snow, my mind goes to what can I cook and what wine would I want to serve with it — and of course what cocktail I might have while I’m contemplating all of this ha!
It’s ironic that I’ve grown to love not only spirits especially Bourbon and Scotch. My dad being a wine guy, never had any spirits in the house except for high-end cognac, which is grape based so that would have qualified in his drinking repertoire. I had never even tasted Scotch or Bourbon until I was late into my 20’s and working. Now I’m hooked! Bourbon is my true love and with so many styles, I always find one that will match my mood or drinking occasion. My 2 favorite classic cocktails are a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned. I still think that there is no better Manhattan cocktail than one made with Makers — sorry Rye purists. I know I will get backlash here but I prefer Bourbon not Rye don’t argue with me that’s my taste! Makers is on the sweeter side so be careful when adding in the sweet vermouth it can make it too sweet if you add too much. And for an Old Fashioned I really prefer Knob Creek, its smooth and elegant texture with honeyed notes make it the perfect base for this classic cocktail. No comments please, I hear some of you groaning already; this is my blog and this is how I like my cocktails!
So as I looked out the window at the blanket of snow falling, I started to make one of my favorite one-pot meals the hearty Ukrainian Borscht. Now my grandmother would not have approved of this version of Borscht, her’s was a rich, sweet soup with flanken (beef). It was the traditional Jewish Polish/Eastern European hearty soup, that was often served with a potato in the center and adorned with lots of dill. As if the beets weren’t sweet enough, she’d add more sugar and a touch of lemon to balance it out. I discovered Ukrainian Borscht which is a meal in itself. The recipe is basically — 2-3 pounds of beets, 1 head of cabbage shredded, 1 large onion, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots (dice the vegetables) then 4-6 cups of beef stock made from 2 pounds of short ribs. Since I eyeball everything and have made this so many times, the recipe is not exact. While roasting the beets and making the beef stock, you wilt cabbage, saute onions, celery and carrots. Once the beets are soft, you carefully peel them — I highly recommend wearing gloves — and dice and julienne. Strain the broth and set aside the meat (dice it in large chunks) from the short ribs. Combine all the vegetables in a large pot, add the meat, beets and diced tomatoes (canned are perfect too), a bit of tomato paste maybe 2 tablespoons and the juice of 1 lemon and cover all with the stock — make sure it’s covered well with liquid so add more beef stock or some water if needed. I cooked this in a slow cooker for 6 hours on low — or you can do this in the oven or on the stove top, your choice, just make sure the meet is tender. The last hour I add a few tablespoons of chopped dill — adding it too early will make the borscht taste too much like dill. Also the last hour, you can add some diced potatoes — don’t add too early or they will be mushy.
Serve the borscht piping hot, with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill. Now for what wine to serve. A meal like this with a mostly savory notes and a touch of sweetness, as well as rich notes from the beef should have a wine that will stand up well to the complex flavors of the borscht. I calls for a wine that is bright and fruity with good acid and velvety tannins — a wine that is too fruit forward without good acid won’t stand up well to such a multi-flavored dish. I chose a wine from my cellar, a Barbera with just a bit of age on it. Barbera is a perfect foil. The Marchesi di Barolo, Barbera Marai 2014 from the famed Barolo producer, has bright, sour cherry notes and undertones of figs with a touch of earthiness and velvety soft tannins. Of course a village level burgundy or Oregon Pinot Noir would also be a great choice, and even a Garnacha from Spain.
Food and Wine have a commonality. It takes patience and love to make both. And when you have a great pairing — the right wine with the right food, you have magic. This combination was magic. It was the perfect pairing for a cold winter’s night. I used to make this for my mom and I know my dad would have loved it — grandma not so much.
It’s been a life long love affair with the bubbly! And on the eve of the historic vote on new trade tariffs which will wreak havoc on the Wine and Spirits Industry, I thought it was appropriate to write about this love affair, throw in a Bubba and finish with a glass of Bourbon.
My parents were huge Champagne lovers. Dad’s range varied from the super yeasty, bread toast, honeyed, complex wines like Krug and Bollinger RD to our house Champagne (sorry folks yes we had a house Champagne when I was growing up) which was Perrier Jouet Brut NV. Every Chinese New Year’s my dad with Les Amis du Vin, always did a special Champagne and Chinese Food New Year’s Dinner for the members and we always started any dinner party with hors d’oeuvres and Champagne as people arrived. My first real job was as a tour guide in Reims at Champagne Mumm! I spent a summer there when I was a senior in High School and had the most amazing time taking people around the Champagne Caves and of course going to see other Champagne houses as well.
So this weekend when my dear friend who is a prominent retailer from South Carolina, came in to NYC, we made it a Champagne tour! I can remember a few years ago when I visited Charleston with another industry friend — and this is where the Bubba portion comes in– Bubba, we had a Champagne tour of Charleston. Actually it was a Champagne tour of mutual friend’s cellar where between the 4 of us (there was one other) we polished off a Magnum and at least 2-3 more bottles while sitting on her terrace overlooking the Charleston Harbor. Pretty much a perfect day. Most of what I remember is a Magnum of Ruinart followed by some older vintages of I think Moet and of course Pol Roger.
Prior to this visit she came with Bubba and stayed with me — my first house guests in my new/old place and of course she gifted me a Magnum of Ruinart so that we could start things off right! This time around we sat in the living room of the son of the owner of the store she works for (not a Bubba but a Junior) and toasted our day with a lovely bottle of Billecart Salmon Rose. Pretty much a perfect way to slide into a day of bubbly — a light salmon-pink, colored bubbly with zesty notes of citrus, raspberries and lovely crisp finish. Bottle polished off, it was now time to move onto the next venue! So around the corner we went to the local wine bar where we ate French Fries and drank glasses of Lanson Brut NV. Folks if you’ve never had French Fries and Champagne then you are missing out on one of the most perfect food and wine combinations! The crispy, saltiness of the fry is a great match to the drier styles of bubbly.
Full and filled, we were off to the next eating and drinking stop. This time it was for some Franciacorta and for those of you who’ve never had this Italian Sparkling Wine you are missing out! Nothing like Prosecco, Franciacorta is made according to strict methods just like a Champagne would be made. This one, Solouva is made with 100% Chardonnay and is an elegant balanced, fresh and crisp bubbly that went great with the fried arancini (rice balls.) So a few glasses later and along with an Aperol Spritz (it was a weird 67 degree F. day in middle January) we were ready to move on.
We enjoyed a lovely walk along the Highline and wound our way over to the new Hudson Yards. By now I hate to say it, I was tired of the bubbly and it was time for the Bourbon. I think you all know me by now so it’s not surprising that Bourbon would be my choice at the end of the day! I tried a terrific local NY State Bourbon from the Taconic Distillery. This is my new favorite local Bourbon. Tired feet and feeling a bit parched, my friends went for the wine and I went for the amazing smelling Taconic Dutchess Private Reserve Bourbon. Poured over a glistening block of whisky ice, the dark caramel colored liquid beckoned to be savored and it was. Honey and vanilla are the most prominent aromas with subtle notes of spice and a smooth long finish.
I was now finished. Great day filled with great friends, fun food, great bubbly and bourbon!
Last blog I talked about the wonderful holiday markets of Vienna and mentioned that I would take you on my next journey in search of holiday markets in Europe. This trip took me to London and Edinburgh. I’ve always loved London and have been there more times than I can count; Edinburgh I recently discovered on a trip I took last year (and will be a future blog subject) and have since fallen in love with this amazing city. First stop was London! London is one of the really great walking cities in the world. The city was all dressed up, glittering in holiday lights and various holiday markets. The largest was in Hyde Park and was a bit of a disappointment as I was expecting what I saw in Vienna, lots of cute crafts and food but instead found little crafts, large rides and lots of food. The Holiday Markets on the South Bank and in front of Trafalgar Square were more in line with what I had expected and wanted in a Holiday Market. I love to walk this city and during my 2 days this time I think I logged in over 25,000 steps each day which was a good thing considering how much I love to eat in London. Years ago you’d never have thought of London as a place to eat great food but this has changed dramatically over the years. Today London has many Michelin starred restaurants, celebrity chefs and with a large and varied immigrant culture, there are so many amazing ethnic restaurants.
But I was on a mission, and that mission was to find the Huffkins Tearoom in London, home to my favorite tea, Girlie Grey! Last year I had afternoon tea in this lovely tearoom, while on a day trip to the Cotswolds it was there that I first tasted Girlie Grey. I tried desperately to find this blend or a replica and had asked many friends who went to England to try to find this tea for me. While we found similar blends, none could match up in my opinion to this blend of Black Asam and fragrant rose petals and citrus. I was so excited when I heard they had opened up an outpost in London, inside John Lewis, that I made that my first stop and bought all the bags they had! I ordered my tea and it looked lonely so I had a proper club sandwich with chips and then a perfectly sweet and sticky Belgian Bun. Great way to start the trip! I kept on walking and taking in the holiday sites and ended in another of my favorite places, the Burlington Arcade where I stumbled upon a fantastic holiday pop-up for the English Sparkling Wine Nyetimber. This lovely pop-up, was elegant and just the place to rest my tired feet and have a glass of Nyetimber Rose. Made from a classic blend of grapes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this wine was lightly pink with an elegant perlage, creamy with notes of rasberries and roses. Yes folks, England is making some stunning sparkling wines. The terroir especially in Sussex is perfect for sparkling wine and with climate change and things getting a bit warmer, England is becoming truly a fantastic place for Sparkling Wine.
Day 2 took me on my favorite walk from Mayfair over the Golden Jubilee Bridge and onto the South Bank so that I could work up an appetite for my pilgrimage to Borough Market. To me Borough Market is the holy grail of food markets with Wright Brothers Seafood the light at the end of the tunnel! I arrive, and am starved, it’s a bit too early and Wright Brothers is not yet open but Borough Market is! I just love taking in the sights and smells of this amazing food market that’s been around since the 12th century. Beautifully displayed food from local vendors in stalls filled with cheeses, meats, fish, shellfish along with fruits and vegetables. Spice Mountain was my first stop, a spice purveyor with a fantastic array of spices and mixtures from around the world. I discovered it last time and bought a large array of Indian spice mixtures. Prepared foods abound, from hand pies to oysters, the largest mushroom risotto pan ever, enormous paellas, and ethnic foods galore. I started off with a holiday hand pie from the Pieminister; I felt I needed a base for the oysters I was about to consume at Wright Brothers. I love the Pieminister and actually bought their book which is filled with a huge assortment of recipies for pies! Now it was time for my annual lunch at Wright Brothers and I couldn’t wait, early enough to get a seat at the bar and not have to wait at this mecca for oysters and seafood fresh from the English coast. I started with a half dozen oysters matched with a glass of Ridgeview Bloomsbury Brut. Another great example of what can be produced in England, rich and creamy in texture with a lasting perlage and bright green apple nose. Perfect for my oysters and next course the most lovely pink prawns served in a coupe and a side of mayo. I was almost in heaven and got there on my last stop which was to Bread Ahead Donuts and if you know me you know I’m obsessed with donuts! Now I was in heaven, a perfectly fried donut filled with rich chocolate bavarian cream and sprinkled on the outside with sugar!
Another city with a vibrant food scene, Edinburgh does not disappoint. A former colleague of mine’s son is part owner of a lovely gastro pub called the King’s Wark so I decided that I would venture out to Leith, the waterfront area of the city and have dinner — and it did not disappoint! Situated in an inn that dates back to 1432, the King’s Wark serves elevated pub fare. I settled on a yummy cocktail made with Edinburgh Seaside Gin — a local gin infused with seaweed which went perfectly with my Shetland Island Mussels and fries. I polished off the pot and then chased it down with a plate of Sticky Toffee Pudding — my meal was now complete as was I!
With my quick stop in London over it was time to go on to Edinburgh to see my favorite castle, drink whisky and eat great food, so off I went on the train which really is the best way to get there. It’s a 4 hour direct journey that takes you through some beautiful countryside and along the coast. Edinburgh I discovered as I said on my last trip and couldn’t wait to come back. It’s another great walking city and I was intrigued by the thought of their Holiday Market, but really wanted to sample as many types of Scotch Whisky as possible! You could say that I “specialized” in wine and wine marketing but, I have grown to really love Whisky and I wanted to learn more about the “Water of Life.” For my second day, I booked a tour to the Highlands to see a few distilleries and Loch Lomond, through a tour operator I used last time called Rabbies. With just 8 people on the van and an incredibly personable and knowledgeable driver at the wheel we were off on our journey to learn about Whisky. Our first stop was to the Glengoyne Distillery for really informative and professional visit. Glengoyne has a very interesting history as it actually sits in both the Highlands and Lowlands but is technically a Highland Whisky. It was a great way to start the day and reinforced why I love this style Scotch, balanced, smooth, rich, with notes of toffee and hints of citrus. After we had a lovely tasting we got back into the van and drove off to visit Loch Lomond. Our guide took us on the scenic route through the rolling countryside speckled with sheep everywhere. We lucked out, no rain and moderate temperatures for mid-December, which made the walk around the lake very pleasant. The incentive to finish the walk in a timely fashion was a picturesque pub with a roaring fire and typical pub fare to warm you up! I had enough time to order a steak and mushroom pie with a side of mash. Ok this really was one of the best steak pies I’ve ever had! Savory, rich and topped with perfectly flaky pastry oh my! Now with a belly full of pie it was time to pile back in the van to make it to our next distillery stop at Deanston. Another distillery with a great back story — read about it, with another fantastic tasting of Whisky! What a great day and cemented my love for Scotch Whisky and the countryside of Scotland.
Dinner was at a fantastic gastro pub called the King’s Wark, owned by the son of a former colleague of mine. The King’s Wark was situated in Leith, the waterfront area of Edinburgh. Located in a building dating back to 1432, this pub serves up great food and drink in a cozy atmosphere. I settled on a cocktail made from my favorite gin, Edinburgh Seaside gin which with it’s nicely briny taste from infused seaweed, went perfectly with my Shetland Island Mussels and fries. I finished things off with a warm plate of Sticky Toffee Pudding and I was now finished off! Ready for bed and my last day in this lovely town.
On my final day I got up early and walked from my hotel, down the Royal Mile for a spot of tea at the Palace of Holyrood. Belly now warmed by the tea, and full from the scone, I was ready to hike up Arthur’s Seat. Now whatever possessed me to do this I do not know; I don’t hike and this was the highest point in the city. I started out, not bad I thought, but then the mud, and the incline and well, I turned right around and decided that it would be better to drink some more Whisky, so off I went to the Whisky Experience! Glad I did. The Whisky Experience was a guided tour of Whisky with a tasting of 5 Whiskies at the end. A well done tour, with lots of information and a tour of the largest Whisky collection in the world. I sat down to my 5 different Whiskies, each from one of the 5 Whisky regions and then had a lovely lunch of locally cured salmon, fresh tiny prawns and herring. A lovely day finished by a stroll through the Edinburgh Holiday Market and I was officially done!
Happy New Year Everyone. Thank you for reading my stories, this is new for me and I really appreciate all the lovely comments. I wish you all a fantastic end of 2019 and a 2020 filled with great food, wine, whisky and travel. Slainte!
I’m not sure when my obsession with Holiday Markets began but I confess I LOVE them!
There is just something so festive and cheery about the little chalets filled with holiday treats to eat and crafts to buy. I’m pretty sure it must have started when I was a kid and my parents and I would stroll down 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue, to see all the fancy department store windows. This was an annual tradition that I loved! Sadly so many of these iconic department store windows no longer adorn the avenue since so many of them have closed over the past few years.
We’d start at B. Altman — many of you may know this today from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Altman’s as we called it, was housed in a gorgeous building close to the Empire State Building and had the most fantastic windows. We’d then take a short stroll over to Lord & Taylor which sadly closed its iconic flagship store. Lord & Taylor was always my favorite, as it windows were always stories of old New York. Then we’d peak into the store and see it all dressed up and glittering so festive! Many of the airlines would also have offices on 5th and they too would be all dressed up in their holiday finest showing off the holidays from their home country. We’d then go past the tree at Rockefeller Center and look into the windows at Saks. Then we’d wind our way over to Park Avenue and go past the Lever House Building and see the carousel which was a real carousel in the window! We’d wander over to Bloomingdales with their larger than life windows and then back over to 5th to see the Star across 57th and the greatest windows of all Bergdorf Goodman! I still try to do this tradition of walking the avenues and seeing the holiday displays but it’s not the same — Lord & Taylor, Altman’s, now Barneys all gone and so too are their windows.
What we now have in the city are amazing little Holiday Markets all through out the city. European styled chalets twinkling with lights and colored in red and white are so festive and great places to purchase or just peruse handicrafts and food. So this leads me to my newest obsession and that’s going to Europe to see the holiday markets there. A year ago I went with one of my good friends to Vienna so that I could sit in a cafe, eat strudel, drink coffee and stroll through the bounty of holiday markets in the city. It was everything I wanted it to be and had imagined it to be! Vienna during Christmas is magic. And to truly appreciate the beauty you have to walk around at night. The city is light up with holiday lights everywhere and a holiday market at every turn! Each has a different theme and size so you never get bored of seeing “another”. The one common thread in all was the most amazing hot, mulled wine called Gluhwein. The smell evokes holiday first off, cinnamon, cloves, orange and of course red wine — each vendor had its own recipe and came in a fantastic mug that you could purchase and take with you. In fact the other night it was so cold and snowy here that I made my own version. Here’s the recipe: 1 bottle red wine, 2 cinnamon sticks, peel from 1 orange plus 4-5 thin slices, 3 star anise, 3 cloves, and sugar to taste — depends on how sweet you want it. Heat this for about 20 minutes, simmering then strain out the solids and pour into mugs.
In the 3 days we were there we did as much as possible! Saw the famous Viennese Riding Academy and the Lipazzaner Stallions which as a kid I had always seen in NY at the National Horse Show, but to see a full show with these acrobatic animals dancing and gliding in the most fantastic historic arena was a dream for me! There’s something magical about hearing music in what many consider the home of music, so we went to the famed Orangery in Schoenbrunn Palace to hear Strauss and Mozart. And yes there was a holiday market in front so we got to see that too!
I think I actually ate my way through Vienna — thank goodness for all the walking. The holiday markets were filled with fantastic foods and so were the cafes. Take a look at this array of amazing foods on display at the markets, all kinds of wursts, pastries and goulashes, all so beautifully displayed you didn’t know what to eat first!
For dinners we ate traditional Austrian food with nice glasses of Gruner Veltliner or beer. This kind of food, hearty and rich really does call for a wine that has perfect acid and structure. New World styled wines with their over-abundance of fruit and tannin do not go with this type of food. Austria makes some fantastic wines and they are meant to be consumed with food! Not really a fan of boiled meat, but it is a specialty of Vienna — in fact many countries have the same like Bolito Misto in Italy. We went to the iconic Plachutta for Tafelzpitz and my mind was changed. First you start off with a soup made from the boiled meat. It is rich, and savory with egg noodles — again reminding me of grandma’s cooking and served piping hot served with hearty rye bread. Then came the meat with all the sides — sauces galore which helped cut through and enhance the richness of the meat. And oooh, the presentation was amazing — all served in copper pots table side. And dessert was actually Chestnut Pasta! Another night we went to a traditional restaurant recommended by our hotel called Poschl, and it was truly worth the hour wait! Complimentary beer made the wait a little better but once we got to the food, it was heaven! OMG, the roast pork with gravy and cabbage was amazing, just like dad and I would have at the Ideal in the Yorkville area of NYC, but better!
I made it a mission to go to a cafe a day so we had coffee and strudel every day! Cafe Sacher was a must for the famed Sacher Torte and Strudel — ok am a bit strudel obsessed my grandmother made strudel and that will be for another story! Then on to The Imperial Cafe for more strudel and a piece of Imperial Cake which I had to bring back to my “adopted” parents who had told me all about this and how their friend the former President of Slovenia would always bring them a piece. And finally to Hawelka which is where many of the famed writers hung out for guess what, more strudel!
It was all I wanted in a trip to see my first European Holiday Markets! Now off to the UK to London and Edinburgh to see more! I can’t wait to see them and write about them so you can all experience them with me. Turn on the Mozart, brew yourself a mug of Gluhwein, grill up some wurst, have a slice of strudel and transport yourself to Vienna even if you can’t be there in person.
A hot bowl of soup on a cold and rainy or snowy day is like wrapping yourself up in your favorite sweater or wearing your coziest pj’s or even snuggling deeply into your warmest blanket. Now how’s that for a cliche! I realize that I’ve probably used up my cliche quotient for this blog piece, but really who doesn’t feel this way about soup. So as I look out onto the newly snowy covered trees and grass, soup is on my mind.
Maybe it’s a Kowalsky thing this obsession about soup. Or maybe it’s in the DNA, our Eastern European roots that have made us soup crazy. My grandmother always had one on the table no matter how hot the day was! My dad was obsessed with cooking them and now I follow suit. In fact I think this is my second posting involving soup! Soup is filling and doesn’t have to be made with overly expensive ingredients to taste good. My paternal grandparents were not wealthy people; immigrants from Poland who brought their food culture to New York. They lived in an area where most of the Jewish immigrants settled on the Lower East Side. Grandma was never one to cook what she called “American” food. Her foods were Jewish Polish — from Galicia, hearty and filling. Most of the cuisine from this region was made of ingredients that didn’t cost a lot and could be stretched to feed many. I can still see my grandfather sitting at the table with his giant soup spoon, slurping on a piping hot bowl of split pea soup or borscht. And it had to be piping hot or he wouldn’t eat it!
A meal had to start with a soup, and I don’t think I can ever remember one not starting this way even on the hottest of summer nights. Dad would yell, “Who eats like this in the summer? It’s too hot to eat soup.” Grandma wouldn’t budge, and we’d all be sweating but somehow we’d manage to eat it all!
My favorite soup she made and then my dad used to make was potato soup. She’d expertly make her “aynbren” which is the yiddish word for “roux”. But of course since the meal that would follow was usually meat, hers would be made with flour and oil, not butter but if she were serving dairy then she’d use butter. Nothing smells better than slowly caramelized onions, seriously, that’s probably my favorite cooking smell. She’d caramelize the onions, and dad would steal a spoonful — that was the tradition and she knew it! Once the onions were perfectly golden brown, she’d add the flour and mix it slowly over the heat until it too was the perfect shade of golden brown; next went in the Idaho potatoes, then cover with water and cook until done! Simple and delicious! And of course she’d serve it with a crusty piece of rye bread or challah.
What wine would I drink with this you ask? The rich, nutty, slightly peppery tastes I think go best with a rich white like Chablis from France, or a Gruner Veltliner from Austria. The minerality, slight salinity and crisp acidity coupled with the rich bright, green apple and tropical fruit notes of Chardonnay that you find in Chablis, would marry well with this soup. Gruner’s floral notes peppered with spice and bright lemon citrus notes make it an amazing food wine and certainly one with enough oomph to cut through the richness of this soup. If you were to go red, I’d probably chose a Sangiovese, a Chianti Classico because it can be earthy and still have lots of red berry notes and good acidity which make it a good pairing here. And I’d even go as far as saying a Pinot Noir from Oregon, Burgundy or even Austria work because of the bright, lighter fruit and good acidity. You notice, acidity is a theme — acidity is needed when pairing with a food that is fatty or rich like this soup.
So last night as the snow came down for hours, I became obsessed with the idea of making soup to keep me warm. I made my own version of grandma’s potato soup and slightly upscaled it as she’d never have had porcini mushrooms though, she may have had dried polish mushrooms which were similar, and I know she only used water no chicken stock. So here’s my recipe:
Ingredients: 1 large onion sliced thin, 2 cloves garlic minced, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons butter, 3-4 tablespoons flour, 2 large Idaho potatoes large dice, 1 carrot large dice, 2 tablespoons fresh dill chopped, 1/4 oz dried porcini mushrooms soaked until soft in warm water, 1/4 cup dried barley, 2 cups chicken stock and 3 cups water (heated to warm). Directions: In a large pot, cook the onions in the oil and butter until deep golden brown. Add the carrots, drained porcini and garlic and cook for a minute. Sprinkle with the flour and cook until the flour is also deep golden brown. Add potatoes and cover with the water and chicken stock. Once it’s at a boil, turn down and add the barley. Cook or about an hour until the potatoes are soft and the barley is cooked. Season with salt and pepper and the chopped dill. Serve with crusty rye bread or challah and of course a nice glass of wine!
It’s the time of the year when we start counting down towards the end of the year. It’s also the time of the year when we gather together to celebrate with our families all the joyous celebratory holidays. It can also be the time of the year that is the toughest for those who have lost loved ones and find our selves in what I recently learned is a category called “Adult Orphans.” Becoming an adult orphan is a normal part of life’s cycle. As we enter our 50’s this is a normal part of our life, I get that. However it’s how you deal with the situation that is the interesting part. Family as strictly defined is group of people related to each other — but is that really the only definition of family? For me the answer is “no” that is not the only definition of family. As an only child with little family in the immediate area, my extended family has become my network of friends and my mom’s friends. I’m very thankful for my family with whom I have reconnected after my mother’s death, but for many years we were not close. My group of friends has become my family and by extension so have their parents. They are my source of strength, comfort and love and for this I am thankful. So before we sit around our Thanksgiving tables and each say for what we are thankful, I wanted to share this with you all now.
I am thankful for the treasure trove of recipes my mom left, most, lovingly hand-written on index cards. I am thankful for all the amazing Thanksgiving meals she made for me and dad. Mom was a really great cook and she eventually handed off her cooking duties to me as it became tougher for her to make a complete meal. After dad’s passing it was just me and mom, and often we’d have our friends come over and she and I would cook together. Eventually I’d take over all the duties. She’d do some of the prep work and I’d do the cooking. One thing I never let her give up was her cranberry sauce. Here’s her recipe and it really was simple and perfect. The sweet and acidic nature of the sauce was the perfect foil for the rich foods of Thanksgiving. She never deviated from this recipe and honestly there’s no reason to do so. Here’s her original index card with the recipe — you can’t go wrong! And by the way it’s also great over ice cream!
I remember being a bit terrified the first time I made a turkey. I think every one is — so much pressure. But as I always joked, if it was awful there were always the sides and take out was just a phone call away. So I bought my turkey, a nice 10 pounder, not easy to find a small turkey! I don’t like the mess of liquid brining and really who has a pot or a bag big enough let alone room in the fridge! Dry brining with lots of salt works great, just make sure you season inside and out and keep the turkey uncovered in the fridge overnight so that it dries — this will ensure a perfectly crisp bird! Overcooking is what makes the turkey dry, so if you cook it properly it should be juicy; and in case it’s still dry, moisten with a bit of stock after you slice it. Here’s a picture of my first turkey, lots of butter mixed and if you want to go a step further add sage and lemon peel, under the skin. This ensures moisture and taste seep into the meat and nice drippings result for making gravy at the end. I always add the neck and gibblets to stock to enrich the stock that will be used for making the gravy so don’t throw out those parts, they are flavorful and useful! I won’t be making the turkey this year but that doesn’t mean that I don’t serve as Turkey 911 for some. First time we went to a friend’s house her mom made an enormous stuffed turkey, it started out well but somewhere down the line, her mom decided the turkey was done, took it out way too early then had a panic attack when she realized she took it out 2 hours too early or rather hadn’t put it in 2 hours early enough. Now everyone knows I am a die-hard Cowboy fan — no judgement please, and while I’m watching the game I can hear her screaming my name. So we un-stuffed the turkey, and put the bird back in at a higher temp and cooked both until they were done (that’s what most chefs will tell you when you ask how them how long to cook something.) I could tell just by feeling the bird and seeing the color of the juices that it was seriously underdone — which also meant that the stuffing would be dangerous so all needed to be cooked separately until done. Honestly I never mind the phone calls! I’m thankful that I have the cooking background so that I can answer those calls!
So this year though I am not cooking the bird, I will be making a lot of the sides to bring over to my friends aka my family. I love the mix of sides and everyone has a favorite. I’m thankful for the bounty of yummy foods that we’ve all contributed to the table. This year I will make roasted butternut squash and onions and walnuts, finished with a drizzle of high-quality balsamic vinegar. I also love to make brussel sprouts mixed with onions, pancetta and chestnuts, finished with a touch of cream and a sprinkle of parmegiano. First render out the pancetta until it’s crisp then add shredded brussel sprouts and saute them with the onions in a mix of butter and olive oil until they are soft and slightly caramelized, add the chopped cooked chestnuts. Add a touch of cream to your liking and season with salt and lots of pepper. Sprinkle with a handful of parmegiano then put in the oven at 400F until it’s bubbly and the cheese is golden — maybe 15 minutes.
I’m also going to make a sausage, chestnut dressing. Mom always used Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix and never deviated! It really is the best, just add your own seasonings. In a pan saute onions,and celery in butter until soft, add some chopped pecans, then add the sausage (about a pound without the casing for a bag of stuffing) saute until brown. I also add some additional poultry seasoning about a teaspoon and salt and pepper to taste. Add all this to a bag of stuffing and put this into a buttered casserole dish. Moisten with 2 cups of boiling stock and bake in the oven at 350 F for about 30-40 minutes.
Here’s my Wine 911 for the meal. I traditionally like to serve domestic wines but not always. What’s needed, and is most important, is a wine that has good acidity because the meal can be rich and you need something that can cut through that richness. Bubbly is a great option, a dry, slightly floral rose sparkler like a dry Cava or Prosecco or a domestic Sparkling Wine. I think a dry still Rose not sweet, made in the Provence style, has the pretty floral notes and good acidity that will pair well. Other good options include aromatic white wines with crisp acidity, floral and citrus notes such as a Pinot Gris and there are some terrific ones from Oregon if you want to stay domestic or Alsace if you want an import. I also like either a Vinho Verde or Gruner Veltliner if you want an import. Red options should not be too ripe and intense as they can overpower the meal, and you want a wine to complement not over power. Here too a red should have acidity — balanced acidity is what a good food wine should have. Pinot Noir especially from Oregon has brilliant ruby fruit notes and great acidity. Syrah and Grenache are other good choices. They have dark fruit notes lots of spice like cinnamon and lol say it with me — good acidity. Malbec too is a great option it is a grape that is truly food friendly — loads of red-fruit notes and great balanced acidity it works well with a cornucopia of foods and tastes. There are so many great wine choices, just remember the best wine is the wine you like! Wine for me, like food, is what I love to share with friends. I am thankful that my parents gave me this love of food and wine. They loved to share it with their friends and I in-turn love to share it with my friends. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, be thankful for what you have on your plate, your glass and in your life!
You know things are different when you see an historic, venerable, quintessential New York institution like Katz’s next to a Marshalls.
Though we as a family never actually ate at Katz’s — it wasn’t Kosher you see, and grandma would only eat Kosher. She would definitely not approve of this change of the neighborhood! “A Marshall’s” she’d say, “who needs that? Who goes there? Eh” She’s been gone for a long time and hadn’t seen the dramatic changes that have taken over the LES (Lower East Side) and I’m sure if she had, she’d have been baffled. Long gone for the most part, are the Orthodox Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe to the Streets of Gold in NY. Long gone are Jewish food institutions like the Essex Street Market, where grandma would select live chickens, or the plethora of religious shops. Gone is Ratners with their famous onion rolls — come on who’s grandmother didn’t take the basket of those rolls and dump them into her purse? I know mine did, though later in life she would never fess up to it even when caught red handed! There was the Garden Cafeteria, the Second Avenue Deli (now on 3rd ave lol) Moishe’s Bakery or Gertels Bakery. Most of the folks, along with the foods I remembered, moved to Brooklyn or Rockland. The few places that remain such as Kossars, Katz’s, Russ and Daughters or Yonah Shimmel, are now tourist destinations that few New Yorkers visit on a regular basis as I did when I was a kid.
Yes I know things change, neighborhoods gentrify, but so much of what makes NY, NY is slowly disappearing — or at least what I consider NY is disappearing. Food as I’ve said before so many times, evokes memories; when you smell a particular food it can bring you back to a place in time. So today before I went to a meeting in one of the trendy new coffee spots on the LES, where the coffee menu is long and it’s hard to get just a cup of coffee (if it were not trendy I’d call it a coffee shop!), I decided to reminisce and stopped Yonah Shimmels for a knish. For those of you who have never had a real knish, and I don’t mean one that’s square gummy things you get from the hot dog guy on the corner, Yonah Shimmel is the place. Round open pastry surrounding soft potatoes and caramelized onions, and seasoned with lots of pepper– and it must be served warm and no mustard please!
Now that I had my potato knish fix, I ventured over to the famous Katz’s. Now as I said I had never actually eaten there with my family, we were Second Avenue Deli folks. And I have to say I do prefer Second Avenue over Katz’s. Subtle differences like the way it’s sliced and seasoned, along with the rye used, I do prefer Second Avenue. Since Second Avenue was kosher, that’s the only place grandma would eat. Whether eating there or taking back to grandma’s, dad and I would order at the counter. We knew the guys — we had a guy! He would always start us off with a schmear — chopped chicken liver on rye followed by a hot dog coated in spicy deli mustard and smothered in coleslaw (this was the Kowalsky way!) Then we’d sample the pastrami which was always juicy (the PC way of saying fatty) and thin (Katz’s is chunkier). Not sure how we then had room for supper, but somehow we managed. Our deli-man would then weigh out the rye bread and throw in a few more slices, (as dad would say — “A schtickle more…) lots of their spicy mustard and pickles galore. If you ate there you had a basket of rye on the table which, you guessed it would wind up in grandma’s purse, pickles and “health salad” though there was nothing healthy at all in this place! There are clearly 2 kinds of corned beef/pastrami eating people — those in the Katz’s corner and those in the Second Avenue corner. Now I’m not saying it was bad, because it was good! Peppered pastrami, nice and juicy on rye bread, coated in spicy deli mustard and topped with coleslaw (again that’s the Kowalsky way) — accompanied by pickles and a Dr. Brown’s Cel-ray tonic, all hit the spot on a cold day. And yes I was surrounded by tourists, again nothing wrong with that they should experience our NY institutions. I do the same when I travel, as I must also experience the cuisine of a culture and city. However as a New Yorker, there is a right way to eat a Pastrami or Corned Beef sandwich people and it’s NEVER with mayo, as overheard at the table next to me. Oy vey!
Next stop was into Russ and Daughters to check out the appetizing. Now here again we Kowalskys differed from most — we were M. Schact folks. Not fancy like Russ and Daughters, Schacht’s was located on Second Avenue, across from the Second Avenue Deli. Long gone, Schachts was actually the purveyor to most of the other appetizing stores. I still remember old man Max, the M in M. Schacht, hovering over wooden barrels of belly lox which he soaked until they were perfectly salty. He would wait on me and dad and personally giving us tastes until dad approved that it wasn’t too salty. He’d spoon out the herring in cream sauce with onions; dad always had to have an extra container of the cream sauce with onions (tzibeles), sweet and creamy and oh so good smothering a piece of Russian Black Bread. And he had the choicest white fish chubs, smoky and glistening all waiting to be brought to grandma’s for Jewish Brunch (we never said brunch!).
After getting the appetizing, dad and I would stop at the Gus’s for more pickles (just like from the movie Crossing Delancey) and our final stop would be at Kossars for bagels and their famous bialy and a pletzel for grandma. If you’ve never experienced the smell of a fresh, hot Kossar bialy, then let me tell you, you are missing out on one of the best smells in the world! Hot yeasty bialys with a perfect center of onions, garlic and poppy seeds; or the larger version the pletzel — heaven!
All these amazing food memories bring me back to the time I spent with dad and grandma. All this shopping would take at least an hour if not more, because if you knew my dad, we’d be chatting with everyone as we made our purchases. The car now smelled amazing! So we’d bring it up to the house, grandma would put down her version of salad which was a few iceberg leaves, onions and sliced tomatoes — she would say, “Salad, who eats salad, that’s for the the animals.” “Did you find a parking spot”, she’d ask and we’d roll our eyes and say “No the car is circling the block on its own”. We’d sit at the table, she’d stand and eat over the sink. Finally dessert would come, babka from Gertels and then grandma would try to make coffee. One, two, three she’d start counting; we’d play with her and say five, six…, she’d yell Anche (dad’s Yiddish name) stop it, and then she’d start again. I guess I inherited her lack of coffee making skills; she would have loved today’s coffee pods. For me the Lower East Side (not the LES) is all about the memories of the foods, their taste, their smell and family.
I’ve been back in the burbs now for about a year and a half and I’m actually, surprisingly loving it. I have lots of space to cook which I do now every day. I have lots of space to entertain, and cook for my friends; though the lack of large kitchen space in the city didn’t ever prevent me from cooking and entertaining. I definitely inherited the love of cooking and sharing the pleasures of food and wine from my parents, no matter how large or small my kitchen was . And I have lots of space to explore outdoors. I grew up here but didn’t really appreciate it until I came back. When you are a kid you don’t think about how lucky you are to live in a particular place. When you get older that’s when you start appreciating your surroundings, truly appreciating your surroundings.
Yes the city had the glorious Central Park, though I admit I didn’t really take advantage of its being just 2 blocks away. Being where I am now I have access to miles of walking trails and an extraordinary park with sweeping views of the Hudson. I now take advantage of the outdoors. When I was a kid the park across the street was where we played or braved the hill and trees in the snow on our flexible flyers. But it was also a place that we also knew you didn’t go into alone. And it wasn’t until some time later that we discovered that our instincts were right and found out that the Son of Sam also played there, though not the games we played sadly. Today this park, Untermeyer Gardens is a breathtaking place with, as I said stunning views of the Hudson River and landscaped gardens which rival any of the world’s great landscaped parks. Restored to its original glory this Persian Roman Garden it is a treasure. Follow the path down the hill and I mean down the hill and you wind up on the Old Croton Aqueduct. Again as a kid you’d never wander down to the OCA, in fact I don’t think I ever went that far. It wasn’t safe to wander into the woods. But today, the path is filled with people walking, riding their bikes, walking their dogs or running.
So what does this all have to do with food? Good question! On a recent walk when I should have been consumed by the beauty around me, all I could think about was what am I going to make for dinner. Yup, I knew that my walk ended in the parking lot of the local supermarket so I had about 2 hours to think about what’s for dinner! Shouldn’t I have been pondering the meaning of life while walking in the woods? Isn’t that what one does? Nope I think about food and what to make for dinner. I finally decided that Sundays are for a good roast and channeling my mom, I bought (as she would say) a cute little pork roast and some root vegetables. An easy, comforting meal to put in the oven while I watched football. No wine today, football watching calls for my favorite other beverage — bourbon. I the studded the roast with a mixture of garlic and fresh sage and rosemary — still had some in the garden, then surrounded the pan with a mixture of beautiful fall root vegetables. I then seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled olive oil over all and gave them a good mix then put it in the oven at 375 F until the juices ran clear. Now that the roast was doing its thing I could concentrate on my reward! I made myself a fall cocktail made of fresh apple cider, spiked with a generous pour of Makers, added a dash of Fernet Branca and dusted with cinnamon. Roast in the oven, I could now concentrate on the cocktail and the game.
Mom would always make some sort of comfort meal on a Sunday, this would have been one of her favorites. She would have approved of my cute little pork roast.
That’s pretty much the cleaned up version my dad said to me when I told him I wanted to go the CIA — the Culinary Institute of America. Ok I didn’t know how to boil water and yes I’m ashamed to say I never learned from my parents who were AMAZING cooks! So you would say along with dad, “you want to do what?” Let’s back track a bit — I went to a fancy private school in New York City, Horace Mann — which also happened to graduate a famous chef named Alex Guarnaschelli; then went to college in Boston at Brandeis University where I was graduated with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. Not natural feeder schools (pardon the pun) for the CIA. Most of my friends went on to be lawyers and doctors and I wanted to go where? The CIA and become a chef; not a usual path for a Jewish girl from NY, we make reservations right?
I originally wanted to go to school in Switzerland, L’Ecole Hotelier in Lausanne, the premier school for hotel management — I wanted to be the next Leona Helmsley you see lol. So dad asked his friend Paul Kovi of the Four Seasons and Joe Baum to write a recommendation for me, because the only way to get in there was to have famous restaurant friends recommend you to the admissions board. First problem was that everyone had this advantage; problem the waiting list was super long; problem I was female; problem I was American and final problem I’d be almost too old by the time I got into the school – there was an age limit. Solution — go to the CIA first then Cornell after. So dad once again called in a favor and since he was a fellow and knew the president very well, they gave me a shot and I went off to become a chef.
On your first day you get your chef’s coat, stunning checkered pants, steel toed shoes and a chef’s hat and neckerchief. All had to be worn perfectly each day or you risked getting kicked out of class. Next they give you knives. A whole set of chef’s knives in all kinds of shapes and sizes. So I walk into class, knives in hand, crisp chefs coat on, itchy pants and really uncomfortable shoes and my Rolex which I always wore. First day I now become Rolex girl — so immediately I ditch that, get the standard Swatch worn through the button hole on my coat and try to blend in. Only problem here is that unlike all the others I couldn’t cook! Next I became known as band aid girl. I think at one point during the first week of classes I had a band aid on every single finger!
I think I worked harder here than ever in my life. This place taught me that I could do anything I wanted if I really put myself into it. And yes at times I was actually into it! Being a bit vertically challenged, that’s the PC way of saying short, I would often be coated in food. Kitchens are really made for tall people! I never backed down from a task, even when my partner got thrown out of the kitchen when we were on the busiest station. My classmates all rallied around and helped and I finished the sautee station in the “E-Room” our nickname for the Escoffier Room.
One day while in the wines class I had an epiphany and realized that I was meant to go into the wine business just like my dad. I no longer wanted to go to hotel school and really wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps. Once again “you want to do what” came out of his mouth. I had always told him that I would never do what he did and now look at me! Now flash forward to graduation. I accomplished all the tasks and classes at the CIA, escaped with minor burns and cuts and gained a full sense of what I can do if I put my mind to it. My amazing grandmother came to see me get my diploma. One of the pre-celebration highlights was taking her to the baking kitchen to see how they made the bread which she couldn’t stop eating. She was in awe and couldn’t believe how perfect each roll was. Grandma I said, they use a recipe, everything is exact and precise. She then responded with her typical “Recipe, who needs a recipe, I use a bit of this and a bit of that” and I said ” that’s why your baking never comes out right!”. If you remember my last blog about her baking, you now know she was not a baker! The joy on her face as I graduated was priceless. And the final surprise was that dad had asked our friend Kevin Zraly, yes that Kevin Zraly, who was also a fellow, to be the commencement celebrity for my graduation!
I now cook for my friends, who are the beneficiaries of my long ago culinary education. I loved cooking for my mom whenever I could; my gift back to her for all the year’s of her cooking for me. Dad, well he was a challenge on many levels and if he were here he’d tell you about the 3 pies I made for him and how they cost him thousands of dollars in culinary education! I never cooked professionally after the CIA but but there’s nothing I love doing more cooking for my friends. Again food, wine, friends the common thread in my blogs and what make me the most happy!
Happy New Year all whether you are Jewish or not, I’m wishing you all a sweet year to come. The week between the New Year and Yom Kippur is one full of celebration and reflection and of course food. It’s a time when we gather with our families and usher in the year with traditional foods many of which are sweet to usher in a sweet New Year; apples and honey, sweet rather than savory challah, honey cake. We anxiously eat a big feast before Kol Nidre, so that we fill our bellies in anticipation of the fast to come. We wish each other an easy fast and spend the next 24 hours in prayer, repentance and introspection. Sundown comes, the shofar blows and we all join our families for the large break-fast celebration usually filled with “appetizing” and spreads — lox, bagels, kugel, smoked fish salads and so much more.
Notice, food is a common thread, it is again the unifying force that brings us together in celebration. As someone whose parents are no longer here, I am very lucky to have an extended family of friends with whom I spend the holidays. I look back at the amazing meals mom made, having learned many of the recipes from my dad’s mom. My grandmother only knew as she would call it “Jewish food” and my mom learned from her how to make many of these wonderful traditional foods. I am lucky to have found a treasure trove of recipes written on index cards from my mom. Grandma never wrote down a recipe, she said “eh, who does that? I put a little of this and a little of that, cook it for as long as it needs to cook and then it’s done.” Her foods were never what you could call healthy, in fact salad she would say is for the animals; salad for was eaten only when you had appetizing foods and then it was just a slab of iceberg and if you were lucky it had a blob of russian dressing. Chicken fat or peanut oil were the cooking fats of choice and vegetables were never really the color they came from in the wild but rather all took on a grey hue since they were either from a can or just cooked until there wasn’t a nutritional drop left. Yet somehow it all tasted comforting and delicious and we never worried about calories or cholesterol!
For the New Year, dad, who learned from Grandma, would make the most decadent chopped liver. All the ingredients had to be warm he would say, that’s the key. The livers, only chicken, with onions fried in schmaltz, (yes dad would render his own) warm hard boiled eggs, all chopped by hand in a wooden bowl and seasoned to perfection. Here is the recipe
Of course there was chicken soup with matzoh balls, and I’m not sure who made it better, grandma, mom or now me. Grandma’s secret she would say was adding a marrow bone to give it the extra body — and of course chicken feet for that super rich taste. She’d search high and low for kosher chicken feet and towards the end of her years of cooking she gave up using them since it was almost impossible to find. Matzoh balls, light but still with body would sit in the middle of the most wonderful rich chicken soup adorned with carrots and “bissel” of dill and egg noodles. Mom carried on the tradition for me after Grandma and Dad were gone. Her soup was just as yummy and made with care. Her’s was a bit more fancy, very clear broth with beautifully cut carrots, added after the soup was done so they would still be crisp and fresh, and the lightest matzoh balls floating in the middle surrounded by egg noodles. I decided that I would treat myself and make my own batch to celebrate the New Year during the week. Here’s a picture. I can’t tell you the recipe because I cook just like Grandma, a bit of this, a bit of that, done like this and done when it’s done.
Grandma would always finish the dinner with her honey cake. She we all now admit, wasn’t the greatest baker, but her honey cake was always delicious. Her cookies, well that’s a tooth cracking story for another time, but honey cake was definitely worth eating. So tonight I thought I’d take a crack at making one since I have a friend staying here through the holiday. Friends since high school, reconnected over the past few years, and I can’t imagine not having this amazing lady in my life. So I baked us a honey cake so that we could celebrate the coming New Year with a delicious sweet as my grandmother and mother would have done. I put my own touches on it, it’s a bit fancier and boozier than Grandma would have made — for those who know me, bourbon is my thing so it’s laced with bourbon to give my touch. And well I guess this counts as the “drink” portion of this blog, lol.
Food unites us, we celebrate the good, the bad, with family, with friends over a meal. Food is nourishment for the body and the soul. I wish you all a happy, healthy and sweet New Year!