Chinatown Chronicles- 2019, The Year of the Pig

“Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?” -Confucius

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, has more than 4,000 years of history and is the longest holiday of the year. In the 21st century, the national holiday begins on the first of the Lunar Calendar and lasts until the 15th of the first month. In 2019, Chinese New Year begins on and ends

Recent years of the Pig are: 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019

This year marks the Year of the Pig, which is the 12th of all zodiac animals.

“According to a myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by when each animal arrived to his party. The Pig was late because he overslept, putting him at No. 12. Personality traits of the pig include a gentle and accommodating personality. They have a calm appearance, a strong heart and are natural nurturers. However, their weaknesses include being somewhat naïve and too sensitive.” (NY POST)

Paired with the Celestial Stems (天干—Tiān gān), there is a 60-year calendrical cycle. Although hài is associated with earth, the years also cycle through the five elements of nature (五行—wǔ xíng).

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Tiger shrimp.

A lot of prep work done in advance as usual. I cleaned the shrimp, marinated the meat overnight and prepared the homemade dumplings.

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Bacon & brie wontons.
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Homemade dumplings.
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Dry rubbed ribs.
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Soup dumplings and steamed pork buns.

Blend your homemade dishes with some pre-made products like steamed pork buns and soup dumplings.

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Crystal shrimp dumplings.
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Shrimp cooking.
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Ribs and Pork Belly slow cooked.

 

A happy and prosperous 2019!

JKS 1/31/19

Superbowl Antipasto, Staten Island Style

Superbowl Sunday is like a second Thanksgiving for snackers. My name is Jim and I am a confessed snacker.

I always enjoy the appetizer round of any meal.   I am usually charged with the appetizers for big gatherings. I make a cheese/antipasto platter that mixes fun with flavor and really gets the tastebuds going.

You want a cheese platter with a nice variety flavors and textures. For every hard cheese like cheddar or provolone, add a soft cheese like a brie or a gorgonzola. Semi-soft cheeses like gouda or Emmental are nice additions.

I like to stuff big green olives with bleu cheese for a pungent, creamy delight. Don’t keep the cheese platter in the refrigerator, but allow the cheese to sit for a half hour at room temperature to activate the funk in the cheeses.

For meats, I like to mix Italian salamis and prosciutto with Iberian ham, Hungarian salami, spicy soppressata and  smoked ham. Pepperoni is always a crowd favorite so I pair it with a mellow Jarlsberg or a smoke mozzarella.

 

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In the creation above, I fan out the meats and cheeses to represent the colorful plumage of the turkey, layering from the outside in. In the photo below, I stack the meats and cheese in managable bites to create a cheesy winter wonderland with a salami log cabin and a grape tomato Christmas tree. Generally, you want to make it easy for people to access while making it appealing to the eye. Cutting meats and cheeses into shapes that play into your theme is fun, too. Toothpick are very handy when you are building.

I sometime wrap mozzarella with soppressata or Havarti cheese with a Hungarian salami. Pepperoni, Genoa salami, prosciutto and different sausages or pate balance the platter out nicely. Olives, pickled mushrooms, peppers, crudité and hummus add something for everyone. I use an apple to make a fun centerpiece, because I’m kooky like that and it gets a laugh.

For crackers, I like Carr’s Sesame or plain, Saltines, Ritz or Triscuits are fine, too. Rich brown breads, crostini or breadsticks add a little panache. Mix it up.

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Mangia!

JKS 1/29/19

 

The Thing with Wings- Six Tips for Superior Superbowl Wings

Superbowl Party crowd pleasing wings every time! It is not hard to make good wings. The chicken and the farmer have already done the hard part. If you choose plump, juicy wings and prepare them properly it is pretty hard to mess them up too badly.

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Excellence in making chicken wings requires a deeper dedication. For restaurant quality (or better) wings every time, try these simple tips-

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1) BRINE- Brining the chicken assures that juicy meat will be under the crunchy, savory coating. Place chicken in a pot or large sealable container. Combine brine ingredients and pour over chicken. Place in fridge overnight or up to 36 hrs. This is one I use all the time-

1 quart of unsweetened green tea (cooled)
2 tablespoons of Chinese five spice
1/4 cup of Kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic sliced thin

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2) USE THE RIGHT OIL- If you are frying your wings (medium heat), use the right oil. Use peanut (my favorite), canola or vegetable oils, because they have the high smoke point that will ensure crispy skin. This will seal in the moisture and guarantee the meat is cooked thoroughly.

3) NO  FRY, NO PROBLEM- If you hate frying but want crisp wings, we have two options for you.

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BAKED- The wings are tossed with a tiny bit of baking powder (not soda!) in your coating to alter the PH of the skin, making them get crispier than ever.

SOUS VIDE BBQ- The sous vide method of cooking is amazing for locking in flavor and assuring a well cooked wing. They are fully cooked when you hit them with a finishing sauce or rub and grill them for a crispy coating.

4) SEASON WITH REASON- For fried wings, dust with flour and seasoning before cooking. Don’t over season at this point. Let them sit for ten minutes before frying to let the skin bond with the coating.

5) SAUCE UP (OR DUST) AFTER COOKING

Buffalo Sauce

2/3 cup hot pepper sauce (such as Frank’s RedHot® or Crystal)
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter.
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar.
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Alabama White Sauce

1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.
½ Tbsp prepared horseradish.
1 Tbsp hot sauce
2 Tbsp Lemon juice.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Old Bay Dry Rub

1/4 cup light brown sugar packed

1/4 cup Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon black pepper

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6) DIPS-Wings are made for dipping. Whether you’re on team ranch or team blue cheese, make sure your dip is delicious. Choose a store-bought brand that you really love the taste of (I like Marie’s). Easy to make your own.

Bleu Cheese Dip

1/2 cup sour cream.
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese.
1/4 cup mayonnaise.
1 small clove garlic, chopped.
1 tablespoon milk or buttermilk.
Juice of 1/2 lemon.
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

JKS 1/29/19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crab and Shrimp Bisque

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Seafood soup helps cure cabin fever on long winter nights, warming both the belly and the soul. Whether a cioppino, a boulibaise or a chowder, a bit of the brine in the mix adds to the meal. Bisque is perhaps the highest evolution of the seafood soup.
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If you’re a purist, you know that a true bisque is a seafood soup, but it is often used to describe any creamy soup. The soup is French, and the origin of the word “bisque”might be derived from Biscay, as in The Bay of Biscay, a gulf which lies off the west coast of Europe, bordering Western France and Northern Spain.

Ingredients

• 6 tablespoons butter (3/4 stick)
• One med onion
• 2 med shallots (chopped)
• 4 stalks celery (chopped)
• 3 cloves garlic
• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 3 cups fish or vegetable stock
• 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
• 1 cup whole milk
• 12-16 ounces crab meat (blue, king, snow or Dungeness. I used king crab in this. Par boiled it, removed and set aside the meat and used the shells in the stock)
• 12-16 ounces uncooked shrimp (chopped)
• ½ cup sherry wine

 

Saute veggies and garlic until soft. Add flour to roux. Add stock, pepper, tomato paste and sherry. Let simmer for 30 mins. Fold in milk and cream stir until blended evenly. Add seafood and cook for five mins. Add butter.

Turn off and let sit for ten minutes. Serve warm with toast points, biscuit or crackers.

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Thank You to the Staten Island Advance

Thanks to the Staten Island Advance for featuring “Hook It & Cook It” for the past three Sundays. First class treatment. Thank you @siadvance and @silive

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To purchase book on Amazon, Click here

 

 

Jim Shaffer
ErinGoScratch.com
Hungry man. Tiny kitchen. Big City.

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Excerpt 3 on SILive.com- CLICK HEREThree Sundays in the Staten Island Advnce

Excerpt 2

 

Excerpt one

 

 

 

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Rainy Christmas

Rainy Christmas

Part One

By James K. Shaffer, December 1991

Prologue (for grownups)

Christmas is a season of hopes and wishes. The frustrations and futility that can bully us during the course of the year, although not forgotten, are tempered with feelings of rebirth and renewal. The most shattered hearts can dream of loving again, the most lost soul can hear voices calling them home and the most broken of wings can imagine flight. Romance finds its way into the most commonplace of moments. The rain of sorrow and loss that can pour down on any life can become the snow on which peace and tranquility can find a way. Is this hope born of the desperation and yearning that haunts our hearts or is there indeed a Christmas spirit? Is there this spirit that descends from some finer place that inspires us to forgive and love our fellow man and even ourselves? Does the human soul indeed open itself to the possibility that it exists for a reason and can in this lifetime, for moments all too fleeting, achieve a state of grace that lifts us to be better people? The answer to these questions can be found in the purity and complexity of a snowflake and the power of a tear in a child eye…

The Tale

Once upon a time, in a city that was not always so kind, lived a young girl named Rainy. Rainy was born on Christmas seven years earlier and got her name because on that day it had rained like never before. It began the moment Rainy cried her first tear and continued until she slept that evening. The city had never seen such rain.

From that day forward, every time Rainy cried, the rains would come. No matter how sunny the day, nor how clear the night, the clouds would gather and the rain would fall. As she got older, Rainy learned to controls her tears. Instead of crying, Rainy would go to the roof of her building and sing sad songs to the stars. People all over the city could hear her sing and no one ever complained because her voice was so beautiful.

Luckily for Rainy, an all the other people of the city, she was mostly a happy smiling child who was not sad very often. And just as her tears brought the rains, her joy made the sun shine brighter, the moon smiled, flowers bloomed and the city was a happier place to be. And as sad as her sad songs sounded, her happy songs were a joyful sound that made people feel warm inside.

Rainy’s family was not very wealthy in possessions, but billionaires if banks could hold love. They were kind to one another and tried always to be cheerful. Rainy’s father, Big Nicky had bright red hair and a long red beard. He drove a train that was the pride of the rails called “The Christmas Cannonball” .

Her mother, Gloria, had long black hair like Rainy’s and a voice to match. Gloria taught singing and music at Rainy’s school and was proud of her daughter’s clear powerful voice.

Rainy’s baby brother, Little Nicky, had just lost his baby teeth and talked all the time although no one could understand him. No one, that is, except for old Uncle Elmer who, when he took out his false teeth and talked, sounded exactly the same. Elmer lived downstairs with Aunt Marie, who loved chocolate and dancing, and cousin Mark who was a few months older than Rainy. Cousin Mark tried to be good, but always seemed to get himself into some kind of mischief.

Grandma and Grampa lived in the building directly across the street and although they were old, they were so full of energy that no one thought of them as old. They loved to ice skate in the winter, plant flowers in the spring, swim at the beach in the summer and through big parties in the fall.

Rainy had a dog named Circles because he had big black circles around each eye and loved to chase his tail in circles. They were a big happy bunch.

Because Big Nicky sometimes drove his train to far away places, he was sometimes away from his family for days at a time. This is what made Rainy the saddest. But no matter how far away he was, Big Nicky always called to wish them goodnight. This usually cheered Rainy up. But she missed her father and it made her sad. When she was younger this always made her cry. As she grew up she learned to to control her tears and hold back the rains.

Now that she was a big girl she had it under control except on Christmas

I Started Cookin’ in Brooklyn

 

An except from HOOK IT & COOK IT available on Amazon.

A New York Foodie’s Bonafides and Particulars

Hi, I’m Jim. I am a big man, recreational fisherman, home cook in a tiny kitchen in my native New York. I hook it and cook it, buy it and fry it and I know my way around The Big Apple.

My love of food has driven me to explore all corners of this grown-up playground I call home. I want to share with you some of the hidden gems I have discovered in my travels through the neighborhoods of the five boroughs and areas surrounding NYC.

For a New York City home cook, the journey to delicious, restaurant quality food that you can make in your own kitchen starts with taking advantage of the fresh, authentic ingredients available to you in different ethnic enclaves of the five boroughs. You have the planet’s greatest market spread out over the 468.48 square miles of Greater New York City.

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Sign at Lioni’s in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

New York City is my home. I am a native. The energy is in my blood, the excitement is always there and all the vibrant flavors that make up this insane melting pot of a city are in my DNA. My goal is to take my years of New York experience (with a dash of L.A. and Dublin) and put it on a plate.  This is how my journey into understanding New York’s diverse food scene began.

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Flatbush Avenue bus circa 1970 Courtesy of Bus Talk

As a kid growing up in Flatbush, the Brooklyn of the early 70’s spoke to me through my nose and my taste buds. Even if you were just walking in your apartment building or passing open windows down Foster Avenue, you were ambushed by rich aromas of the foods of every nation from the tiny kitchens of our diverse neighborhood. Roasting pork, whether flavored with bright Spanish spices, far eastern vegetables in the delectable sauces of China or with the earthy herbs of the Germans, would make my belly growl.

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They call Brooklyn the great “melting pot” because all the immigrant groups of 19th and 20th centuries had a place in it. They all brought their spices, their customs and the ways of their cultures and religions

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2117 Foster Avenue.

Big pots of “Sunday sauce” served bubbled and simmered in the kitchens of my Italian friends and there was always room at the table. Polish people might have smoked pork chops or kielbasa with a big pile of cabbage with caraway seeds in their rye bread.

Brooklyn expanded my horizons. Exposure to other cultures lets me see different approaches to life. If you are smart, you can adapt some of their wisdom and ways into yours. This includes food and cooking.

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Newkirk Plaza, Brooklyn, NY Courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

The Jewish deli that had amazing hot dogs with thick mustard and pungent sauerkraut by Newkirk Plaza; the beery smelling Irish bar with the misty steam tables feeding corned beef to the day drinkers watching Met or Yankee games; the waft of mellow cheese and zesty Italian sauce married in the oven to create its own advertising coming out of three pizzerias within our walking distance of our apartment building, twenty cents a slice.

Irish food is hearty, but relatively bland in comparison- various preparations of beef or pork, very little fish except for Fridays in Lent, stews, mostly frozen veggies and potatoes were pretty much it. And I don’t like potatoes. Seriously. The only Irish kid I ever knew who felt this way. Maybe a crispy fry or two or a hash brown, but that’s it. I am finicky about little else, but no thank you on the ‘taters.

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Newkirk Plaza, Brooklyn, NY Courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

In between the apartment buildings along the avenues, there were long commercial strips on Flatbush or towards Newkirk Plaza. Each block was different with Irish bars, small German bakeries, Caribbean curry shops, southern fish fry shops, Jewish pickle men, Polish butchers and Greek or Italian fish shops.

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I would try anything. Trips out to Coney Island exposed me to Natahan’s, first with their fine hot dogs and then with fried clams and crispy, juicy frogs legs. Then there was Randazzo’s where I first tried a raw clam and fried squid. I was fearless.

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Frog legs Courtesy of Nathans

Bike riding on Flatbush Avenue one day circa 1972, I saw a sign go up for the first Chinese restaurant I’d ever seen. It became the talk of the neighborhood weeks before it opened. My aunt Marie took us. The red velvet foyer curtains were like the ones at Our Lady of Refuge’s confessionals. The smells were all new. We had the fried rice full of crispy pork and bamboo shoots, butterfly shrimp and the crispy shrimp egg rolls with a splash of soy sauce contained the best vegetables my Irish gob had ever tasted.

Chinese food during the mid-20th century was exotic to American diners that craved new flavors and dishes after decades of tuna surprise and olives in gelatin molds.  Immigration laws relaxed in 1965 and chefs who had fled other parts of the world came to New York, bringing their spicy flavors and Sichuan cuisine was one of them.

“From 1965 to 1975, around 20 Sichuan restaurants opened along Broadway,” Schoenfeld says. “The industry exploded; no one had heard of Sichuan food, and then all of a sudden it was everywhere. We entered this golden era of authentic Chinese cooking that went full steam ahead into the 70s. Spicy Sichuan food was exciting. It was hot.”  “Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese Food History of New York” by Jacqueline Raposo

Traditional Style Chinese Interior Design

On quiet Sundays after church when I was around 9, my mother started to show me how to cook a few things. I boiled hot dogs, fried bologna, baked English muffin pizzas and worked the toaster. I liked making stuff.

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Our Lady of Refuge on Ocean Ave. & Foster Ave.

I loved Brooklyn.

At ten I was moved away to Los Angeles, California, heartbroken. I loved being a kid in Brooklyn, with cousins and family nearby. My dad had a dream and some money. I will skip over the his absences, his dalliance with Scientology, his endless drinking and anger. That’s another book.

 

 

The awakening that California gave me, as far as food is concerned was a profound revelation. As me and my brother Kevin explored the neighborhood near Echo Park, everywhere I looked there was fruit growing- oranges, kumquots, loquats, grapes, grapefruit, lemons, limes, Chinese apples (a.k.a. pomegranates), pears, walnuts, melons, quince and pears.

Most people would offer you some if they saw you looking or wouldn’t mind if you grabbed a few. They were such nice people in California with everyone saying “hi”. It took a while to let my New York defenses down, but soon it was “far out”.

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My first chili dog in California and my first taco happened on the same day. The spicy beef chili on a perfectly cooked giant dog was tasty, but the beef and bean taco from a truck on Sunset Boulevard with the fresh, juicy tomato and crisp lettuce with the taco sauced floored my taste buds. And the green, mushy deliciousness of avocado with a little hot sauce, oh man!

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Jim and Kevin washing Max, The Wonder Dog on Fargo Street in Los Angeles, 1974.

Even the school lunch burritos were good, with the little packet of taco sauce. It was something I began to look forward to each week. My new Mexican friends that lived down the steep hill on Fargo Street* showed me how to grill tortillas on the stove top without burning down the house. I had my first quesadilla when I added a slice of cheese to the affair and never knew it.

*Fargo Street in Echo park – which at 33% gradient is the 2nd steepest paved road in the United States (* at least according to our bible – The Complete Guide to Climbing – By Bike).

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The supermarkets in L.A. were massive and an adventure for a kid used to the smaller specialty stores in Brooklyn. As a kid, you could make a few bucks returning carts for store stamps and helping people with there bags for tips. Between Kevin and I we could make around $15 for groceries on a Saturday if we hustled hard.

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Courtesy of Pleasant Family Shopping

We were in L.A. for two years, and left my father there. California was no picnic for us. My best memories were of all the new foods I discovered.

In the summer of 1975, the year of “Jaws”, we moved back to Brooklyn for a couple of months. We stayed at my Grandparents in East Flatbush when we first got back. It was great being back in Brooklyn. Grandma and I loved the Mets and would watch games on WOR Channel 9 and I would help her some in the kitchen.

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Sometimes I would walk with her a few blocks to the brand new Pathmark that opened up behind the Entenmanns bakery outlet store on Farragut Road. This was a real supermarket, like California had. Grandma always let me get something special like piss clams or pickled herring.

Later that summer, we moved to Staten Island.

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Mets announcers Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelso (in a relatively calm blazer) and Ralph Kiner at Shea Stadium.

Staten Island is a little like Brooklyn, but with more room and less people. We lived in a house, not an apartment building. There were plenty of pizzerias, delis, pork stores and three supermarkets within walking distance of our Castleton Corners home. There were even more Italians in Staten Island than Brooklyn, or so it seemed.

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1 Winthrop Place (left) Courtesy of Google Streetview

Growing up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, I have learned to love Italian food. I have found some of the most amazing pork stores, salumerias and delis all over the city, but few are as solid as the ones I found on Staten Island. Fazzino’s Deli on Manor Road had a wide variety of  cold cuts and salads along with an antipasta made from the cold cut ends and some veggies with a little oil & vinegar that makes my mouth water today. A & C Superette would open across the street in the 80’s with three times the space and product. On Fridays I would get the cold cut order for the weekend- two lbs of Boars Head ham, a pound of bologna, a pound of turkey, a pound of American cheese and a half of either liverwurst or Genoa salami.  Add a pound each of macaroni and potato salad. Then maybe some rice balls, eggplant, marinated mushrooms or pepper shooters.

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A & C Superette Staten Island

The great wave of European immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought more than four million Italians to America. It was one of the greatest mass emigrations in world history, and many settled in Staten Island. Following the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964, the island experienced another great influx of Italian immigrants, this time from the other boroughs of New York City. Half of my friends growing up were Italian.

We did a lot of fishing and I learned how to work a sharp fillet knife. We began to fish and crab all over New York and New Jersey and visited all the great markets in the various fishing towns. I asked questions and learned recipes from Portuguese, Filipino, Greek and Italian fish mongers. The common theme was keep it on the simple side and don’t over cook the seafood.  My seafood game improved drastically.

My Mom went back to work in “the City” when I was 14 and the shopping duties fell to me. I swear that lugging those shopping bags home from the A&P or Waldbaums helped build my shoulders during those formative years. There was usually a twenty dollar bill left under the jewelry box. This is how I learned to make dinner for six.

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Tuesday night was pizza because Al’s Pizzeria down on Jewett Avenue and Victory Boulevard did two large pizzas for $8. I would buy a pack of Italian sausage and cook it at home to add on. The very first Subway sandwich shop in NYC was right up the block on Victory Boulevard. In 1978 a roast beef foot long was $2.04 tax included.

Fridays were for Chinese food from Sing Bo up the street. I had begun to go to Chinatown and Sing Bo was as good as any of the restaurant on Mott Street. On the other weeknights, I cooked.

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Blizzard of 1978 melting at Victory Blvd & Jewett Ave Courtesy of SILive

At first, hot dogs, burgers, steaks and English muffin pizzas. That got boring. Steak and gravy with mushrooms, pasta and jar sauce, sloppy joes, Banquet fried chicken in a box and ribs were easy crowd pleasers.

There was fish stick & Jamaican beef patty night that was well liked by most. The first taco night was full of wonder and excitement. Two taco kits and four pounds of cooked ground beef and a pound of grated cheddar later, we had a hit on our hands.

My exploration of Staten Island and ventures into downtown Manhattan began to open my eyes and excite my taste buds.

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From the back of the Staten Island Ferry.

I love Chinatown in NYC.  All three of them- Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Flushing in Queens and the original in downtown Manhattan. I started coming to Manhattan’s Chinatown as a teenager.

My high school friends and I started coming into “The City” on weekends and summer days, under the harbor from Brooklyn and over it by ferry from Staten Island. We’d grab a hot dog on the ferry, they were pretty good back then, or a dirty water Sabrett from a cart on lower Broadway for a quarter.’

We went to Modells for sneakers or cheap tee shirts and to the schlock job lot stores that used to dot Murray and Warren Streets west of Broadway.

Many times a walk up to Chinatown for lunch was suggested. You knew you could eat a great meal for not much more than McDonalds. The dumplings, the jasmine tea, the spicy dishes- the choice was easy for me. Even the windows were exciting.

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Chinatown montage, NYC.

Wo Hop was the go to place at first. Some of the kids we knew came with their parents on weekends and they had other places to recommend. Some us began to find new places a little off the beaten path eastward, under the bridge by East Broadway.

Some dim sum carts avoided us because they didn’t want us to try anything off putting. I assured the waiter we wanted the real deal. The floor manager signaled for another group of carts to come over to our table. A torrent of chicken feet, more exotic dumplings, brains, lamb skewers and so much more appeared on small plates before us.

Throughout college I continued to come to Chinatown and became introduced to Asian markets and street food spots in NYC Chinatown.  Here the adventurous home cook can stock up spices, sauces, teas, various spring roll skins and pillowy bao rolls. Fresh, low cost vegetables and exotic fruits for seasonal dishes. I counted six different types of mushrooms on a recent visit. I took a year of Mandarin at Brooklyn College and can still speak a couple of phrases that get a smile or two at restaurants and shops.

One night, I surprised my family with shrimp egg foo young with perfect, velvety brown gravy made from scratch. They couldn’t believe I made it from scratch. Chinatown also offered inexpensive seafood options like tiger shrimp, crab claws, lobster, cod and scallops. I also incorporated the pre-cooked duck and roast pork into other dishes.

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Chinatown NYC, 1986 Courtesy of Through Their Eyes

Sushi came in the scene in the 80’s and that was another taste and texture revelation. Fresh, clean, light and nutritious, as a fisherman sushi spoke to me.

I started to understand the value of recipes and how to adapt and tweak them. Recipes from the Sunday New York Times began to come to life in our humble kitchen. The night I made chicken cordon bleu the first time, I sent a piece up to Grandma and Grandpa to try and they loved it. Rere came down for a piece, too. I followed the recipe and got a great melt on the cheese and it almost looked like the picture in the Times.

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63 East Seventh Street East Village.

When my best friend Mike Schwed and I moved into a cool studio on the top floor (with roof access) of a walk up East Seventh Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, we might as well landed in Europe. We were one of the few Americans in a nearly all Polish building. The smoky aroma of different varieties of pork roasting, the pungent kick of sauerkraut and the sweet smell of sizzling onions waiting for the pierogis, bring me back to those halcyon days in the East Village.

Little India and Little Poland peacefully coexist side by side on the same block between East 6th and East 7th Streets. A couple of short blocks west of there in a Japanese section that you might miss if you don’t know where to look.  Model types travel up a small elevator on 9th Street to the Sunrise Market for the latest beauty products. Venture east and you will find Puerto Rican and Dominican bodegas where pernil and oxtail are ladled over arroz amarillo for a very fair price considering you will get two meals out of it.

 

 

Every day you would hear Polish, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, German, Yiddish, and Spanish spoken in a range regional accent. Chinese and other Asian languages were there too. They had their own stores and restaurants, too. All around us there was amazing, authentic and inexpensive food options. Exploring the avenues and side streets of the East Village for new finds was always a great way to spend a sunny afternoon. It still is.

I’ve seen the city change around me through the years, the East Village has too, but it still has an élan and eccentricity that makes it a magic place. There are still plenty of great restaurants and drinking establishments that make this area special to old timers and newcomers alike. For every hot new place in the East Village is a neighborhood anchor that continues to bring its unique flavor to the neighborhood.

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I can take the N train to Astoria for Greek specialties and fresh seafood markets, the 7 to exotic perfumed curries found in Jackson Heights in Queens, to the secret favorites in all three Chinatowns (BK, Manhattan and Queens), the fish hawkers in Sheepshead Bay and the Irish delicacies and delights of Woodside Queens, the 7 train through South and Central American enclaves, rich with spirit and flavor.

I can find the best authentic Dominican food in Washington Heights, taken trips deep into genuine Staten Island Italian pork store abundanza and enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee at 6 a.m. before boarding the Ocean Eagle for a day of fishing out of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, ending the day with a seafood feast at Randazzo’s.

I challenge you to taste New York like a New Yorker!

 

 

The city is your oyster Take a Metrocard voyage of discovery!

JKS 10/10/17

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