Saturday, October 31, 2015

New York Cooking - Falafel

Fresh Homemade Falafels

In 1992, Molly O’Neill released the amazing New York Cookbook. This wonderful tome documented the international flavor of New York City food. The book is as much a research project into the history of New York City and its immigrants as it is a collection of recipes.

I have always enjoyed cooking and when I saw the movie Julie and Julia I knew that I had mission for when I retired – to cook through this book. I will not make the promise of cooking ALL of the food presented (I can’ eat eels, or tripe) but I will come close and I will share my results and thoughts here, because my growth in the kitchen is part of my personal travels in the 2nd Half.

Moshe’s Falafels

Anyone who has been to the Middle East, or just to a middle-eastern restaurant has most likely had a falafel. For those who haven’t, a falafel is a ball or patty made of ground chickpeas with spices. While some places use fava beans, the standard in NYC is chickpeas. According to the book Egyptian Food and Drink by Hillary Wilson, falafels date back to the time of the pharaohs in Egypt. It is sold throughout the Middle East as street food, and that is how I developed my love for falafels, although it was on the Upper West Side.  When I was a student at The City College of New York in the early 1980’s there were several food trucks that parked on campus. This was before food trucks were trendy, and before the company that ran the cafeteria in the NAC had the school force them off campus. One of the trucks sold the best falafel pits sandwiches. The falafels were fried fresh when you ordered them, so they were never over cooked or dry. topped with a generous salad and tasty sauce. For $2.95 you got a filling sandwich and salad.

The recipe in NY Cookbook is credited to Moshe Mizrahi, a street vendor in NY, so you know that this is the real thing, not a fancy redone dish for a restaurant.

Cooking Falafels

This was an easy starting point for this cookbook. Falafels are easy to make, with the biggest time factor being the creation of the ground chick-pea mixture. 

Chick-peas in the food processor

Chick-peas, onions garlic and parsley

Falafel mixture
Some things that I had not thought of before:
First, When you soak a pound of chick-peas they approximately quadruple in volume. This meant that I had to break the grinding up into 4 parts. Second, The picture shown above was for half of the recipe, it was enough for 2 people to have a full dinner or four to have lunch.

The frying was easy enough, I cooked batches of 4-5 falafels at a time in about an inch of Avocado oil. we have been using this instead of  vegetable of canola oil, and it tastes delicious. You have to keep an eye on the falafels as you do this, because they will cook fairly quickly and you don't want tot over do them.

Finished Falafels

Sesame Sauce from the NY Cookbook

Food on the table
 So why make fresh falafels when there is falafel mix available in the store? These were the moistest falafels that I have eaten in a long time. The seasoning was fresh and tasty. Start to finish it took about an hour, most of that was prep time, about 20 at the stove cooking.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Western Catskills - Delhi and Hamden NY

If you have never been to the Catskill Mountains in New York State you are missing one of the real beautiful areas of the Northeastern United States. The Catskills fill the area between the Hudson River to the east and the Delaware River to the west. They stretch from the I 87 corridor in Rockland county to the south up to near Albany NY. You can see a map here.

When most people think of the Catskill Mountains two pictures usually come to mind. Most famously is the Woodstock Festival (which did not take place in Woodstock NY, but that is another story). The other picture is of the old bungalow colonies and resorts that were the summer get-away for many NYers.

Woodstock redmond stage.JPG
"Woodstock redmond stage" by Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
These images represent the history of the eastern part of the Catskills, closer to the Hudson River. Today that part of the Catskills remains very well developed. However the Western Catskills never became as big a destination and today maintains its rural character.

Last year The Amazing Ms. D and I traveled to the town of Hobart NY to attend the Festival of Women Writers (see my previous blog here). This is a wonderful weekend event with over 100 writers and readers taking workshops and shopping at the town's 6 bookstores. We returned this year and I got to spend some time exploring the area.

This area of NY has an interesting history. It was the last hold out of the old Dutch system of landlords and tenant farmers, called the patroon system. In the 1850's there was a revolt of the farmers, who could not own their land, called the Anti-Rent Wars. This struggle was the background to the novel and film Dragonwyck.

Delhi NY

Delhi is the largest town in this area, with a population of just over 5000, and is the county seat for Delaware County. It was founded in 1798 by combining three small towns. It is also the home of SUNY-Delhi a 2 year/4year campus in the State University of NY system. Its Main Street (Route 10) runs parallel to the West Branch of the Delaware River and has many buildings that date back to the early 1900's.

Jackson and Mason - "Furniture and Undertaking"
 One of the largest buildings on Main Street is the former home of Jackson and Mason. What struck me was the fact that this business was both a furniture store and undertaker. This seemed like and odd mix to me, but I guess if you can make furniture you can make caskets. As I was told "People had to have several occupations in a small town in order to make ends meet."

The Adee House, built in the 1830's

Delhi Town Hall - built in 1856

Detail from the County office building

1st Presbyterian Church - built in 1811

County Court and offices - built in 1878

    Hamden NY

Sitting southwest of Delhi is the town of Hamden NY. With a population of about 1500 Hamden is a lovely little small town surrounded by mostly dairy farms.

The Hamden Inn
 The Hamden Inn is an original (1844) Catskill Stage Hotel. Today it is again a place to stay over night or to check in for a meal. It is run by the same people who run the Lucky Dog Cafe, which sits right across Main Street. The Lucky Dog is a great place to stop in for lunch. Out front is an old fashioned general store, and in the back is wonderful cafe. The food is all fresh, locally sourced organic fare. They make excellent salads, sandwiches and soups.
The Lucky Dog

Just north of the center of town is the Hamden Covered Bridge. Originally built in 1859, this bridge crosses the West Branch of the Delaware River.

Hamden Covered Bridge
Inside the Hamden Covered Bridge

Getting There

Delhi NY is 153 miles northwest of New York City, about a 3 hour drive. It sits at the intersection of NY 10 and NY 28. The drive from NYC is one of the prettiest drives, especially during fall foliage season.

Staying There

There are many B&B's in the area. I highly recommend The West Branch House in Delhi. It is run by Jered and Martin. They have created a lovely place stay and their breakfasts are to die for. They are a couple of blocks off of Main street, so it is a very quiet stay.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Real NYC #21 - New and Old in the Financial District

New York City is not an old city. Certainly not by European standards. But even by American standards, New York has always been a place where it was deemed okay to tear down the old and replace it with something new. So it is true that we just don't have that many buildings that date back before 1900.

However one place where we do have some older buildings is at the southern tip of Manhattan in the financial district. This is also an area that has been built and rebuilt over and over again. As a result you get some striking views of old and new buildings, Here are some of my favorites.
S William Street
At the center of the view above are the buildings 13-23 S. William Street. S. William Street itself is one of the oldest streets in NYC, showing up on maps from the late 1600's. These old buildings were actually rebuilt in the early 1900's in the old Dutch style. Today they all house restaurants. Behind them is an office building a 43 S. William Street.

Coenties Alley
 Coenties Alley stretches from S.William Street to Pearl Street. New York's first City Hall was at the corner of Coenties Alley and Pearl Street, just to the right of this picture (now the back of the office building above). These old buildings now house take-out restaurants. The modern office building at 55 Water Street looms in the background.

Looking west from Old Slip
On the right is corner of the original 1st Precinct, now the NYC Police Museum. The building with yellow highlights is 15 William Street. and the building in front is 3 Hanover Square, which was originally the NY Cotton Exchange. Today it is a residential building. Hanover Square dates back to 1730 and was home to the Cotton Exchange and the Cocoa Exchange

Looking South along Water Street
The 5 story building at 90 Water street was built in 1920. Today it is completely dwarfed by its neighbor at 110 Pearl Street.

Looking at 48 Water Street
The modern 7 Hanover Square is wedged in between 48 and 52 Water Street. They used all of the available space to shoehorn it in.

 Looking South from the corner of Fulton and Front Streets
1 World Trade Center

I am ending with with a look at the Financial Districts Most iconic and one of its newest towers - 1 World Trade Center. This look is down the length of Fulton Street from William Street. I think that this picture gives a nice mix of the old and new that you see throughout the financial district.  So choose a nice day, and come downtown and walk around. There is a lot to see.

Getting There: Most of the subways in NYC go through the financial district, but the stops that are closest to these stops are: Fulton St. (2,3,4,5,A,C,J,M); Wall Street (2,3)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Real NYC #20 - Bay Ridge

The Verrazano Narrows Bridge looms over Bay Ridge
When most people think of the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn they picture John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Or maybe Annabella Sciorra and John Tuturro in Jungle Fever. You know the stereotype - Italian, gold chains, leather jackets. Well, 35 years ago Bay Ridge was mostly Italian, with Irish and Norwegian thrown in. Today it is a very diverse community, adding Russians, Lebanese, Chinese and Arabs from the Middle East. This diversity shows up through the wide range of stores and restaurants along 3rd Ave - the main drag of Bay Ridge.

One restaurant I can highly recommend is The Tie Dye Pig. This is a wonderful little gastro-pub. It has excellent burgers and the french fries are out of this world. The come with salt, pepper and a dose of truffle oil.

Bay Ridge was originally settled in the late 18th century by Dutch settlers. In the late 19th century Norwegian sailors began moving in. In 1916 the subway reached Bay Ridge and opened it up to workers who could live way out away from downtown Brooklyn and still commute easily in to work. Most of the new arrivals then were Italians and Irish who moved in to small apartment buildings and houses. Many of those houses still exist today.

Decoration on an apartment building

Bay Ridge sits at the south-west corner of Brooklyn, alongside the NYC harbor. There is a wonderful park that goes along the river. At its north edge is Owl's Head Park.

 The park then passes along the water until it reaches the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and joins with John Paul Jones Park.

This cannon was originally from Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania and was commissioned for the Civil War

One little gem in Bay Ridge is the Stone Gingerbread House.

So If you want to get out of Manhattan for an afternoon of walking along the water and good food come out to Bay Ridge.
Getting to Bay Ridge - Take the R subway line toward Brooklyn. The last 3 stops on the R train are in Bay Ridge.