Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'r' is for russian rye bread

All sorrows are less with bread. ~ Miguel de Cervantes

As you know from a past post, dear readers, there are few things I love more than bread. So imagine my delight when I happened upon a new bakery offering complimentary bread samples at our local farmer's market. After just one bite I was completely smitten. Dark, dense, aromatic and flavorful, it was like no other bread I had ever tasted. Naturally, I wanted to know everything about this bread and its baker. 

Meet Alex Roginsky-Podlyas, proprietor of Alex's Russian Bakery and baker of wonderful Russian rye breads. Born in the Ukraine, Alex came to the United States with his family when he was 14 years old. He always enjoyed cooking with his mother, and while in high school, he worked as an interim chef for a small Japanese restaurant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Political Science and Law Studies. "I had no clue what I wanted to do when I 'grew up'," said Alex. "I knew I loved all things food, but I also knew that line of work was grossly underpaid. Serving up teriyaki skewers and tempura shrimp was not going to make me wealthy."

So he set out to conquer the world of finance. He held various jobs in financial sales and retail banking, eventually moving to Jacksonville, Florida, to accept a position with a Wall Street bank. He was very successful - so much so that he traveled to India to train recent university graduates to work on the bank's systems. "I was the go-to guy for all of the 'important guys' in our Wall Street office and was the ace who either knew answers or could find answers to everything very quickly," he explained. But alas, one year when it came time for his annual performance review and potential bonus, he received surprisingly low marks. Alex was confused. "I thought I was being read another person's performance review," he said. Politics, favoritism or some other corporate wheels were evidently in motion and, as far as Alex was concerned, the writing was on the wall as it related to his future with the bank.

His disillusionment with his financial position led him back to his first love - food. After considering his options, he decided to work with sourdough bread. "I thought my fellow Russian peers would love my bread," he said, "and given there are not many options for Russian bread in the United States, I thought my business would do well."

Alex is focused on producing both sourdough rye and wheat breads, using only natural yeasts. He explained that sourdough breads do not necessarily have to be 'sour' (his breads are not) and likened the skill involved in managing the yeast in bread baking to that in beer brewing; the yeast is what gives flavor to both. The art is in creating the perfect balance.

Perfecting that balance, however, was no simple task. "I must have had 200 trials and failures before my bread looked and tasted like the real thing; like it was made in a real, old-fashioned, countryside bakery in some obscure location in Latvia," he said. And although I have never been to a real, old-fashioned, countryside bakery in an obscure Latvian location,  I would bet real serious money the bread there would taste just like Alex's. "I researched scientific journals of modern times for months to understand what Latvians figured out a few centuries ago without modern science - scalding flour with boiling water and 'sweetening' dough through a slow multi-step fermentation produces bread that is both nutritious and delicious (read more about it here). Modern science proves rye bread is the healthiest bread," he says. Healthy, and hearty - one (albeit very large) loaf can weigh almost 20 pounds!

My favorite among the breads he produces is the dark and spicy Borodinsky, which is beyond delicious. Did you know that the village of Borodino was the site of a decisive battle between the Russian army and Napoleon in 1812? It's true! Legend has it that on the eve of the clash, the wife of a Russian general wanted to bake some special bread to fortify and encourage the soldiers. She seasoned the bread with coriander, a beloved local spice. Napoleon subsequently lost thousands of troops in the battle, and Borodinsky acquired its heroic status among Russian breads. Officials at the Museum of Bread (yes, there is such a thing) in St. Petersburg dispute the relationship of Borodinsky and the Battle of Borodino, but...it's a good story nonetheless, no?

Alex is passionate about producing a pure and authentic product. "I believe we've been living in an era of decreasing knowledge about bread and nutrition in general. My bread contains six ingredients or less. They are the most basic ingredients - water, flour, salt, roasted barley, sugar or molasses, spices. This is as fundamental as fire, wind, earth, water," he says. It seems that Alex has at long last found the real wealth he was seeking, and we are fortunate he has chosen to share it with us.

You can find Alex most Saturdays at the Riverside Arts Market, and he has plans for a brick-and-mortar location on Edgewood Avenue in the heart of Murray Hill. Hooray! In the meantime, you can follow and support his delicious journey via his Facebook page.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

'q' is for quinoa

Quinoa - pronounced 'keen-wa' - is a member of the Goosefoot family, which includes plants like sugar beets, swiss chard, spinach, and the nomadic tumbleweed. Quinoa has been cultivated high in the South American Andes for thousands of years. The ancient Incas considered it sacred and coined it 'the mother grain' because of its hardy nature and nutritional benefits. Unfortunately, the Spanish conquistadors were unkind to quinoa and its production was banned for many years because of its association with non-Christian ceremonies. But it remained beloved by the Incas, and modern-day eaters are finding lots to love about it as well. You can read a detailed account of its history and the history of The Quinoa Corporation (makers of the fine product pictured above) here.

Quinoa is not actually a grain, but a very small seed, which is wrapped around the middle by a thin band. The seeds are coated in naponin, a resiny substance that's very bitter and forms a soapy solution in water. The naponin must be removed from the quinoa before it is consumed. Most producers will have already done this for you, but some suggest a quick rinse before cooking. Quinoa is prepared in a manner similar to rice by combining it with water, bringing it to a boil, and allowing it to simmer until the water is absorbed. As the seed cooks and puffs, the band around its middle separates a bit, which provides the softly textured, slightly nutty taste of quinoa with an ever-so-delicate little crunch.  Few foods pack the nutritional punch of quinoa, which is loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Quinoa is yummy in salads, casseroles, pilafs or stuffings, but my favorite way to prepare it was adapted from Heidi Swanson's recipe in her cookbook Super Natural Every Day, which is seriously one of the most wonderful cookbooks in the history of ever.

Quinoa Patties on Arugula With Goat Cheese and Vinaigrette
Adapted from the recipe for Little Quinoa Patties, Super Natural Every Day


2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
1/3 C. chopped chives
1 yellow onion
1/2 C. grated Gruyere cheese
4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
1 C. fine bread crumbs, more if need be
Water, if need be
2 Tbls extra-virgin olive oil
Goat cheese, crumbled for scattering atop the patties
Fresh arugula for salad base
1/2 C. chopped scallions
Your favorite vinaigrette


Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the pepper flakes, chives, onions and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir and let the mixture sit for a minute or two to allow the crumbs to absorb some of the moisture. If you need more moisture, add a bit of water. If you need less, add a bit more bread crumbs, but it's better to err on the side of moist than dry. Your mixture is now ready to form into patties. I like them about 3 inches wide and 1 inch tall.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium low heat. Add the patties, with enough breathing room around them. Cover and cook gently for 7-10 minutes until the bottoms are a crusty, deep golden brown. Carefully turn the patties over and cook, for an additional 7 minutes or until golden. I usually keep them covered for a bit, then uncover them during this phase. Sometimes the second side cooks quite a bit faster than the first side, so keep your eyes on them, or lower the heat a tad if necessary. When done, place on a wire rack to keep them crisp.

Next, divide the arugula among plates - this recipe usually makes at least 2 patties each for 4 people - top with the patties, crumble liberal amounts of goat cheese over them, toss some chopped scallions about, and drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette. They are so delicious! This recipe is also great because you can make the mixture or the patties ahead of time and store in the fridge for a day or so.

And now, for what may be one of the most arresting things you will ever witness as it relates to the preparation of this delectable little seed, I give you this two-part dose of awsomeness here and here. You're welcome.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

'o' is for oyster

Six of my favorite things in life come together in this delicious recipe. There is nothing as good as the salty shock of freshness from the sea, the tang of vinegar and shallot, and the sweet fizz of Prosecco in one tasty bite.  The only thing better would be the salty shock of freshness from the sea, the tang of vinegar and shallot, and the sweet fizz of Prosecco in one tasty bite, which you eat while clad in Lanvin, riding a magic unicorn throughout Italy with your One True Love. Other than that, no.

Oysters With Prosecco Mignonette


2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Prosecco
12 freshly shucked oysters on the half shell


Place the vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper into a small, nonreactive bowl and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes so flavors can meld. Just before serving, add the Prosecco. Spoon the mignonette over the oysters and serve. Drink remaining Prosecco. : )

Recipe adapted from Chow.com

Sunday, February 6, 2011

'n' is for newberg

A woman should never be seen eating or drinking unless it be lobster salad or champagne, the only true feminine and becoming viands. ~ Lord Byron

Fortunately we are no longer living in the time of Lord Byron, but when left to my own devices, I will freely choose lobster and champagne as often as possible! Especially Lobster Newberg, which is a dreamy concoction of lobster, cream, butter, eggs, cognac, sherry, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Can you think of anything more decadent or delicious? The dish was created at Delmonico's in New York City, which was America's first fine dining establishment and the birthplace of many an iconic dish including Delmonico Steak, Baked Alaska and Eggs Benedict, another one of my favorite things in all the world! Thanks Delmonico's!

The story of the origination of Lobster Newberg varies slightly from tale to tale, but involves Ben Wenberg, a wealthy sea captain engaged in the fruit trade between Cuba and New York, and a frequent customer at Delmonico's when on shore. In 1876, while home from a voyage, he visited the restaurant and told Charles Delmonico he had discovered a new way to cook lobster. He asked for a chafing dish and demonstrated his discovery by cooking the dish at the table. Delmonico was so impressed, he added it to the restaurant's menu, calling it Lobster a la Wenberg, and it became one of the restaurant's most popular dishes.

Some time later, Ben Wenberg and Charles Delmonico had an awful falling out. Wenberg was banished from Delmonico's and, alas, his signature dish was removed from the menu. The restaurant's customers were none too pleased, however, and continued to ask for the dish. Delmonico ultimately relented, but changed 'wen' around to become 'new' and Lobster Newberg was born! Curiously, sometimes the dish is spelled with a 'u' - Lobster Newburg, for reasons my sleuthing has yet to unearth.

Delmonico's famous chef, Chef Charles Ranhofer, gave the following instructions for preparing Lobster a la Newberg in his definitive tome on all things culinary, The Epicurean, published in 1894:

"Cook six lobsters each weighing about two pounds in boiling salted water for twenty-five minutes. Twelve pounds of live lobster when cooked yields from two to two and a half pounds of meat with three to four ounces of coral. When cold detach the bodies from the tails and cut the latter into slices, put them into a sautoir, each piece lying flat, and add hot clarified butter; season with salt and fry lightly on both sides without coloring; moisten to their height with good raw cream; reduce quickly to half; and then add two or three spoonfuls of Madeira wine; boil the liquid once more only, then remove and thicken with a thickening of egg yolks and raw cream. Cook without boiling, incorporating a little cayenne and butter; then arrange the pieces in a vegetable dish and pour the sauce over."

Fortunately, you can still visit a modern-day Delmonico's and enjoy all of their signature dishes. Bon appetit!!