Wednesday, February 29, 2012

With Chef Rafael Palomino in Newly Opened Bistro Latino

With Chef Rafael Palomino--in front of one of his many kitchens!
(Photo thanks to my daughter Sofia Markusfeld)

Local friends are lucky: Chef Palomino just opened his 7th restaurant in the lovely town of Tuckahoe New York. Set on Main Street, this homey bistro—aptly entitled Bistro Latino—primarily features Spanish tapas, as well as a wonderful assortment of wine, sangrías, and cocktails. It’s got a great “feel,” to it: part New York City, part someone’s cozy living room. It’s the perfect place to meet up with friends on a weekday night, or to enjoy with your sweetheart—any night of the week.  If you are a tapas fan (and who doesn’t like sampling small dishes either before dinner, or as part of a meal on their own?) you’ll really enjoy both the menu, and the ambiente  (ambience) of Bistro Latino!

What’s the story behind this successful chef/restaurateur? Basically his ability to marry his love of food with his business savvy. He was indoctrinated into the culinary world by such rock stars as Jonathan Waxman, Charlie Palmer, and Larry Forgione.  A year in France, five cookbooks, two kids, one wife, and 6-plus restaurants later, he’s still as passionate as ever about his craft—and his customers.

What are Chef Palomino's top five favorite ingredients to work with?
Tuna, salmon, shrimp, mango--and white balsamic vinegar.
His favorite herbs/spices? 
Cilantro, basil, coffee, mint, and chives. 
His advice? 
Prep as much as you can! Have your mise en place--all your ingredients ready--the day before. 

Now I have to add that I’ve known this chef for a loooong time. In fact, I wrote four of his five cookbooks—so I’ve logged some hours in the kitchen with this man.
And still, I’m delighted—dazzled—by his constant ability to create, and recreate. His inspiration comes from his heritage (born and raised until a young teen in Bogotá, Colombia—before moving to Queens, New York), his education/experience, and by people he meets/dishes he enjoys.  All who know him know that he cares about every dish that leaves his stove(s)! 

Below is  a recipe for his Croquetas de Cangrejo Azul—crab cakes—which are lovely, light, and perfect to accompany a selection of other tapas.
Bistro Latino
64 Main Street
Tuckahoe, NY 10707
Tel: 914 961 2233
Chef Rafael Palomino's Bistro Latino Crab Cakes
(Photo thanks to my daughter, Sofia Markusfeld) 

This recipe is from Rafael Palomino’s newly-inaugurated restaurant, Bistro Latino, in Tuckahoe. They’re light yet flavorful, and perfectly crispy on the outside while rich and crab-filled on the inside.  They serve them as pictured here with a whole-grain mustard aioli, but both my daughter and I said we liked them with a light squeeze of fresh lemon.  I enjoyed them with one of their white wines, but these croquetas are perfectly combined with sangria, too!  I haven’t made them at home yet, but if I did, I’d definitely prepare them ahead of time, and then fry ‘em up just before the arrival of my guests.

Makes about 16 crab cakes

1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1 pound lump crabmeat  (crab meat may be substituted)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/8 cup finely minced red pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 and 1/4  cups panko  
Canola oil for frying
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a medium-size skillet and sauté the garlic, onion, and celery until transparent, about 3 minutes.

Put the lump crabmeat into a bowl.   Add half a cup of panko, mayonnaise, mustard, egg whites, lemon juice, and parsley and mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine another half a cup of panko with the garlic, onion, and celery. Add to the other ingredients and mix well to blend.

Take about 1 tablespoon of the mixture, and form into  1/2-inch wide balls.   transfer patty to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat to make all the dough into balls.  (At this point you can fry, or refrigerate patties overnight.). Roll in remaining panko to coat just before frying.

Fill the bottom of a heavy pan with about half-inch deep with oil. Heat over medium-high heat until oil registers 325° on a deep-fry thermometer. Using a metal spatula,  or slotted metal spoon,  and gently transfer half of the patties to the skillet and cook, flipping once, until they’re golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer croquetas to a paper towel–lined plate and repeat with remaining balls. Serve immediately!


Recipe for Baked Ziti

This recipe--in various incarnations--has been in my family for years. This super simple but oh-so-tasty dish is perfect for Sunday (or any day!)  dinner on one of those chilly days--when you crave the comfort of a one-meal dish that will leave all you and your guests sated. As in most recipes, this is a base: you should vary it according to you/your guests' food preferences. I'm lucky enough to live near a great place that makes homemade mozzarella--and Italian-style cheese and parsley sausage, and homemade ricotta. (Quality of ingredients is always important!) This being said, this recipe still makes mighty flavorful baked ziti--even when some of the items are not homemade. Serve with a leafy green salad (I just made it with baby spinach, orange sections, toasted unsalted cashews, and a light vinaigrette) and your favorite crusty Italian bread, fresh grated parmesan, and--for the 21-and-over crowd--your favorite Italian red wine.

Makes about 8 to 10  servings

1 pound dried ziti pasta
1 pound Italian sausage, removed from casings, crumbled and browned, (or 1 pound ground beef, crumbled and browned)
One 15-ounce container ricotta cheese (or, if you can find homemade ricotta, that's even better!) 
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound fresh mozzarella, half cut into 1/2-inch cubes and half thinly sliced
3 1/2 cups homemade or best-quality (your favorite!)  marinara sauce 
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper or to taste
Fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously, and boil the pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain and set aside.

Mix ricotta, egg, parsley, 1 and 1/2 cups chopped mozzarella, and parmesan in a large bowl.

Mix cooked sausage and pasta in with ricotta mixture and add 1 cup of the sauce. Transfer to a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with 2 more cups of the sauce, and the mozzarella.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves, cut, and serve. 

In my parents' kitchen--sprinkling my ziti with fresh basil!
(Photo thanks to my brother, Peter Gargagliano) 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Introduction to In the Kitchen with Arlen

On one of those perfectly breezy New York fall days, my father was enjoying a dish of  baked ziti I had prepared for Sunday dinner. From his street-view seat,  he noticed his neighbor walking by the house with his six year-old son, and asked that I call them in;  I immediately added two more settings and served Joseph and his son.

“You know, Nathan,” my dad pronounced to the six year-old, who glanced up in between ambitious bites. “Food is love!”

Nathan smiled, swallowed, and responded: “Yes. I know that. My daddy says that, too.”

So I guess I wasn’t the only one with a father that has been singing the importance of food as nourishment for the heart as well as the stomach. Growing up in a home with parents  who voiced that philosophy has given me the great desire—and satisfaction—of cooking for family and friends. Thankfully my father’s palate has always been one that welcomed new flavors (though yes, he does have his favorites—and will be the first to tell me when something doesn't make it to his top-picks' list!), which has also inspired me—along with having two kids and a husband, taking lots of trips, teaching students from around the world, and writing cookbooks—to continue the family tradition of shared Sunday dinners, and of trying new dishes from around the globe.

Now, as foodwriter, cooking teacher, and English as a second language teacher, my interest—while still on the food—is also on the stories behind the creators of these dishes. In New Rochelle alone, a historically diverse city of about 77,000, located just outside New York City, we’ve been witnessing (and savoring!) the birth of so many new chefs, restaurateurs, and their creations. 

My goal with this blog is to bring you not only some of the dishes of chefs and home cooks,   but also the tales behind the recipes and their creators.  

Yes, food is love. Cooking for friends and family expresses this. Enjoying new tastes and tales can bring compassion and understanding—not to mention  richness —to our repertoires, cooking and otherwise. Enjoy!
With Dad just before serving baked ziti a few Sundays ago. Photo thanks to Peter Gargagliano.

(Ah! Recipe for my baked ziti to come!)