Category Archives: New York

My Little New York Cheesecake Diary

You might think that summer is too hot to have a piece of cheesecake, but for us, Northerners, a piece of this unctuous treat with a cup of tea, a glass of cider or low-alcohol slightly effervescent young wine is just what the doctor ordered on a cutting-the-grass chilly afternoon like today.

For many the New York style cheesecake may sound like a cliché, but I have my own special connection with it. It began with the first bite of the world’s most fabulous cheesecake at Junior’s Cheesecake and Desserts in New York City (NYC) years ago. The taste of the suave white cheese and the clean citrus tang lingered in my mouth for hours. That night I decided that, whenever possible, I would start taking notes of the cheesecake recipes from different eateries in New York whenever I’d try it, as long as it would be same impressive.

 

I started a little diary and called it ‘My New York Cheesecake diary’. I’ve collected over a dozen recipes of the variations of the New York style cheesecake, including the immortal Lindy’s, Reuben’s and of course, the Junior’s one.

Lower right image is a postcard photo of Lindy’s Restaurant at Broadway and 52st Street in New York City in ‘60s

Of course, there are countless diners in NYC to have a fabulous piece of NY style cheesecake. The Junior’s remain to be my preferred one, and any time I’m in NYC, I’m trying to block out an afternoon to get that piece of cheesecake and take a subway ride from Manhattan to Coney Island or Brighton Beach to watch the cityscape like a local (since I’m way passed the Empire State Building or Central Park phases)… to have a cake on the beach for a much deeper connection with the great Metropolis and its sounds, colors and tastes. 

That for me is the latest ultimate luxury of an experience as well as the way to culminate into that city-that-never-sleepsfinal vibe, which feels like in that realtor’s quote:“We give you the chance to stay in someone’s place while they’re out of town. Live their life for a few days and nights. Act like you own the place. Because, for a few days, you do.”

And that’s also the reason why I got hooked on one of the final episode of Girls’ so much: when Hannah is sitting in the sand of Coney Island, eating the cake she previously saved at the wedding for her boyfriend, and reflecting. Of course it’s is also because of the genius combination of the sounds of the ocean, the seagulls, the cake-smacking and that uber-engaging instrumental that I can’t find anywhere, but mostly because this experience is almost personal and leaves me hungry for more of the NYC gastronomic experiences.
Photo © Girls via Indiewire.com
When experimenting with NY style cheesecake at home, I figured over the years that my favorite one is the Three Citrus Cheesecake, which I glazed this time with my own candied Meyer lemon and it was simply out of this world…  That is the reason I’m sharing the recipe with you today. Enjoy it!

PS: Please note that two major ingredients of New York cheesecake are Philadelphia cream cheese and Graham crumbs crust. Feel free to use the ready-made Graham crust to save time and effort.  For other than Graham crumbs crust, please see the recipe below.

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One year ago: Thai Chicken Burger
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THREE CITRUS NEW YORK STYLE CHEESECAKE WITH CANDIED MEYER LEMON
Yields: 12 portions
Ingredients:
1 ¼ cups Graham crumbs* (see the substitutes below if necessary)
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
3 pkg. (250g each) Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp each grated lemon, lime and orange peel zest
1 tbsp each lemon, lime and orange juice
Thinly sliced citrus or candied Meyer lemon for garnish
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Unless using a ready-made crust, mix crumbs and butter and press firmly onto 9-inch springform pan. Beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time and mix until blended. Stir in zested peel and juices and pour into the crust.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool completely, then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Garnish with candied Meyer lemon slices if available or lemon, lime and orange slices, or fresh fruit.
*For Gluten free Graham crust:
Mix the following ingredients and spread evenly but lightly in 9-inch diameter springform pan:
1 ½ cups commercial gluten-free flour*
½ cup unsalted butter (melted)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup minced chopped nuts
* Note: You can make your own GF flour by mixing 6 cups sweet rice flour; 2 cups tapioca flour and 1 cup potato starch flour
Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Stir until well crumbled, return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more until evenly golden brown.
** For the Flour Made crust Lyndie’s Cheesecake style (for two cakes):
1 cup all-purpose flour
8 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ tsp salt
1 egg yolk
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved
Combine flour, butter, sugar, zest, salt, yolk and vanilla seeds in a bowl, work with fingers until dough forms. Form the dough in 2 rounds; wrap each in a plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour. Press 1 dough round into 9 –inch springform pan; pull off pieces from remaining dough and press around sides of pan. Set aside. Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes until golden and proceed with the filling part above.

Where Bagel Rules & Smoked Fish Lures


I would also add ‘when’ to the title, since yesterday was an International No Diet Day – a perfect occasion to follow my tummy travelogue guide and go wild. Ditching the spring diet for these wonderful 24 hours, I opted for something extremely haute and decadent… Montreal-New York inspired, I went out and bought a pack of the iconic bagels, a chunk of hot smoked salmon, a pack of Philadelphia cream cheese, few condiments and veggies to go with, and, finally, a nice piece of smoked sturgeon. Please don’t boo me on that, I know sturgeon is not a sustainable fish anymore (or ever?) unless it’s farmed, but it is my true weakness, so I guess I will continue this vicious experience as long as this fish is available and within the reach, at least once a year (or next week, may be?). To make the experience even more sinful, I bought a bottle of nice rose. When back home, I have turned some of the hot smoked salmon into a cream cheese spread to smear on a bagel before putting a slice of this unique, clean, earthy aristocratic treat with no equivalent to the taste or texture. A quick combo of an authentic bagel, homemade crazy delicious smoked salmon spread and a slice of smoked sturgeon, layered with red onion, tomato, lettuce and capers is a killer. And with everything smoked on an upsurge this year, let’s get some smoke in here, shall we? 
There are two places or origin of the classic Jewish (now all-American) bagel: Montreal and New York (NYC). There has never been a real ‘game of thrones’ between the two. Each is very good in its own way up to the fact that more and more Montreal-style bagel places are popping up in the U.S. and vice versa.  Both are authentic, hand-rolled, boiled in a vat and carefully baked by a bagel master craftsmen.  And both remind me of Once Upon a Time in America, considering New York and Montreal’s gastronomic past and historic connection. Curiously, most of the bagel shops in other North American cities manage to keep the authentic bagel barren intact failing to reproduce the exact taste of an authentic bagel unless they import New York or Montreal’s exact recipes (secretly passed from generation to generation) or bagel bakers. 
NYC bagels are bigger, thicker, saltier and easier to chew. Montreal’s bagels are thinner, slightly sweet, with (I find) better crust to crumb ratio and less or no salt. They store better staying soft and easy to cut even after a few days of travel. I am talking about Montreal’s Fairmount Bagelsbaked in the wood-fire oven, which I am a long-time admirer of. Sorry, can’t compare them with another famous St-Viateur Bagel since the shop is closed any time I’m trying to pass by, although both are selling like hotcakes and there is usually a line of 10-20 people to get in Fairmount Bagel (see below image). I do hope to get the secret Fairmount bagel recipe one day so we can make this French Canadian classic at home. If you happen to know it, please share it with me.

As a huge culinary adventurer, I like to go on the local food treasure hunt wherever I travel. When visiting NYC, you would most likely find me in one of those hole in the walls sampling local specialties or in one of the Jewish deli specialized in smoked fish and bagels. It feel like I have an unfinished business with New York unless I can have one or two sturgeon, lox or nova bagels each time I’m there. Like anything else about NYC, the selection of quality specialty food from all over the world would always be unmatched and would roar and scream appealing to your five senses. Check the ballyhoo video of Louis C.K. and Parker Posey’s chowhound session at Russ & Daughters, for example.

Images © Russ & Daughters, Travel & Leisure

Anthony Bourdain once mentioned about the place: Russ & Daughters occupies that rear and tiny place on the mountaintop reserved for those who are not just the oldest and the last – but also the best.  So true, but there are so many other places where you can get wasted on a great smoked fish bagels in NYC: Murray’s BagelsZuckers Bagels, Ess-a-Bagel, Bagel Oasis, Bagel Holejust to name a few.

Photo © Phburka via Wikimedi

Some great bagel shops go (like H&H Bagels on Broadway), other come, and a legendary bagel and smoked fish continue to be NYC landmarks. Naturally, a real smoked fish bagel sampling orgy comes at a price, so most of the time I just buy a few bagel sandwiches to-go and head some place nice where I can enjoy the breathtaking NYC skyline while eating my smoked fish bagel in silence and peace, thinking: ‘this is how we do it…’ and savoring every bit of it.

Photos © Natalie Schweiger
Here is the deal. If you are a populace like me, and you are not in NYC; or you are there but you are not one of those poorgeois people flooding the Manhattan or Brooklyn these days casually paying whooping $70.00 plus per kilo; and/OR you have already shortened your daily budget by paying $20.00 for one smoked sturgeon bagel at Russ & Daughters (tips included), I suggest you take it easy. When back home (Montreal in this case), check the nearest Metro (call first) or Russian/Jewish deli store for a smoked sturgeon. A famous Montreal’s sea food store La Mer (image below) would be another bet sometimes. I still manage to come across one for around $36.00/kg, which means for $6-8.00 you get half a pound. And that amount, my friends, is enough to make 2-3 giant top notch quality smoked sturgeon bagels you can feast on with your best friend (or by yourself) for a price of the McDonald’s meal. Not so bad during the time of massive economic woe, hah? Oddly enough (and further to sustainability issues) there is currently no deli in Montreal serving smoked sturgeon bagel as opposed to NYC. I do acknowledge that by disclosing the spots where I buy it I am risking to not ever find a smoked sturgeon again in Montreal, but perhaps it’s my inner voice whispering:It’s time to let go and switch to the grass and dandelions my dear… I am actually eating them right now while writing this post.

OK, if finding smoked sturgeon sounds like an unnecessary or elusive quest to you, hot smoked salmon, mackerel, white fish, trout (all of them perfect to make a spread) and smoked carp (swap for the sturgeon) make great choices to assemble a similar bagel. Montreal’s La Bouchanerie, ADAR and in-store smoking shops are supplying a great variety of maple wood smoked fish to each and every big grocery daily, so there will be no scarce.

One of the secrets to assemble an all-star smoked fish sandwich is to enhance the cream cheese spread base with an actual smoked fish, an extra smokiness (via smoked paprika), greens and turn it fluffy.  Use it as a dip to go with bagel chips, crackers and veggies. An economic and tasty appetizer with which you can stretch a piece of smoked fish to feed the party of 20 people. Equally, and if on a strict budget, you can use a regular cooked or canned salmon and a spoon of liquid smoke mix to replace the smoked salmon in this dip.  

The spread is also excellent in Smoked Fish tortillas or in Flaked Smoked Fish Pasta with Greens, which I might post next.
What was the day about again? No Diet – which is all about self-awareness and acceptance? I won’t lie, I wholeheartedly embraced it steeping myself in a traditional local lore of bagels and smoked fish and skipping the gym. Despite feeling a few pounds heavier, I nailed that selfie to remind me that we live only once so there is no shame in indulging in what you like. I went to sleep happy imagining all the people ditching their diets, accepting themselves and becoming happy for a day, a week, a year… forever… making the world a better place. I’m afraid though if this wish would manifest my face would not fit in selfie anymore, so I guess I’m good for now. Cheers!

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Basic Smoked Fish Spread or Dip
Ingredients:
1/3 cup (4 oz) hot smoked salmon (or whitefish, or mackerel), deboned if necessary, flaked
1 cup (8 oz) Philadelphia cream cheese
½ cup sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp chives, minced
1 tsp horseradish, white or red
1/3 tsp smoked paprika
1/3 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Instructions:
Mix all the ingredients with fork or in a food processor until smooth. Chill and spread on bagels, or serve with bagel chips or with crackers and crudités. The spread can also be used as in fried smoked salmon tortillas and in smoked salmon pasta.

Assembling All-Star Bagel
Ingredients:
1 bagel, halved horizontally
1 tbsp smoked fish spread (see above recipe)
1 tsp capers
2-3 slices hot smoked sturgeon or cold smoked salmon
1 tomato slice
1 onion slice
1 lettuce leaf
Crudités on a side
Instructions:
Spread toasted bagel halves with cream cheese. Sprinkle one half with capers. Top with a few slices of smoked sturgeon or smoked salmon. Garnish tops with tomato, onion and lettuce. Close with another half and serve with crudités.

Vegetarian Borscht Primer


Now that 2014 Olympic Winter Games are over and 70,000 gallons of what was called classic Russian Borscht were reportedly flushed down with the help of vodka and adrenalin in Sochi, I think I can finally reveal my favorite borscht recipe. This is not to bring your attention back to the Soviet food like a dreary svekolnik, listless shchi or mayonnaise-drenched salads – all of which celebrity food critic Jay Rayner called ‘miserable in every way‘. Rather, I really wanted to share a wonderful recipe of the great vegetarian borscht with cabbage, Porcini, beans and of course BEEEETS, which I guarantee will make your heart beat happily. A Ukrainian friend from Toronto shared this recipe with me almost a decade ago. It was so good it became my vegetarian borscht primer. I made small additions to it over the years (swapping cultivated for wild mushrooms, adding a splash of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of spices to create a serious depth Porcini, a touch of organic cider (which I home-made last summer) and cumin can offer in soups. Voila, deep yet clean flavored borscht, which I like to punch with anchovy-garlic-parsley umami-drizzled croutons when serving.
Beets are relatively unpopular in the West, but their liver cleansing, heart strengthening and anti-inflammatory powers have been known in Eastern Europe for centuries, hence the countless varieties of beet dishes which became kitchen staples there. 
Borscht became so popular in Ukraine and Russia, for example, that people were eating it three times a day. A century ago, Russian kids were even served borscht for breakfast. 
One century after. Brooklyn, NYC…
Some of these Russian kids’ descendents are in Brooklyn now waiting to be called yet for another plate of borscht
Here, in North America, the most popular beet soup established under the name borscht (Yiddish) due to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. The name stuck to it and today even the Ukrainian variety from ‘’Baba’’ is called borschtand not borshch. The New York City, namely, Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach or East Villagewould probably be the spots to sample borschtof all kind of origins at once in Jewish, Russian, Polish and Ukrainian delis, dairies and coffee shops. And so would have any other big city’s Russian-Jewish quarter on a smaller scale.   

The origin of borschtis a bit complicated and is closely connected with the cultivation of beetroot in the territory of modern Ukraine. I tend to agree with the narrative from the ‘’Russian Cooking’’ volume from Foods of the World published by Time Inc. in 1969: ‘’Ukrainians insist that they were the originators of borshch, and since there was Kiev when Moscow was a ‘’wheel track in the forest’’ they may be right. Actually, the question of who may justly claim the first – or, for that matter, the best – borshch may never be answered, for there are now more versions than can be counted or tasted. In general, Ukrainian borshch is distinguished from Russian by the presence of tomatoes, pork as well as beef, and a greater variety of vegetables, including garlic.’’  
But who am I to take a stand on the borscht’s heritage? The dish has been a subject of geopolitical irony between Russia and Ukraine forever and it looks like Ukraine has been doing some serious steps to defend what is Ukrainian lately, so there’s probably no need for my rumblings. Besides, to tell you the truth, I am frightened of one of my local Russian acquaintances and don’t want to give too much food for her inevitable anger (just kidding, darling).  Each to their own, and so I cease any further discussion of the origin of borsch and proceed to the recipe.
Now, who wants to know a great Lenten recipe of vegetarian borscht? First of all, allow yourself at least 1 hour to make a good quality borscht. Secondly, it’s important to have the right proportion of vegetables in this recipe. Since it’s hard to measure the size of veggie to a cup volume sometimes, I’d tell you my usual quantity is 3 medium-sized beets, 2 small potatoes, 1 carrot, 1 onion, ½ green cabbage head, 1 can of white beans, ½ cup of tomato coulis for the quantity of liquid mentioned below. When reconstituting dried mushrooms, I save the liquid and add it to the stock for enhanced flavor. I also believe that adding a small shot of apple cider vinegar is balancing the flavor of the borscht perfectly. In many recipes a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar is suggested to add extra sweetness, but I think if you have enough beets, there is no need for that.
It’s very important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others. Finally, timing is crucial not to overcook the borscht turning it from red, crunchy and flavorful to yellow and tasteless. Because of that I could never understand the recipes of borscht that take hours to cook.
Final tips: Borscht tastes better if allowed to sit for a few hours or overnight before serving.
Is delicious hot or cold, with or without sour cream or croutons. It also freezes well.  Enjoy your Slavic cooking experience!
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VEGETARIAN BEET, CABBAGE, MUSHROOM & BEAN BORSCHT
Yields: 6 to 10 portions
Ingredients:
10 cups (2.5 l) vegetable stock or water
1 generous handful dried Porcini, reconstituted and minced OR 2 cups of sliced cultivated mushrooms
4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil OR sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 cup (750 ml) beets, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, julienned
3 cup (750 ml) green cabbage, thinly shredded
1 can (19 oz) or 2 cups cooked navy OR white kidney beans
½ cup (125 ml) tomato coulis OR 1 cup (250 ml) of chopped canned tomatoes
2 tbsp (30 ml) organic apple cider vinegar OR lemon juice
1 pinch of ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
For garnish:
1 bunch of parsley OR 10 dill springs, chopped
1 cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
Garlic-Anchovy Croutons for an extra garnish:
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 4-5 chopped anchovies and cook for a minute or until they melt into oil. Stir in 3 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant for 1 minute. Add 2 cups of cubed stale bread (gluten free if you like) and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Toast tossing frequently for 3-5 minutes until croutons are golden and crisp.
Instructions:
Note: It’s important to add and cook the ingredients in proper order, as some vegetables take longer to cook than others.
Add the stock or water to a large soup pot and bring to boil. In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté onion with mushrooms for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add sautéed mushrooms, onion to the boiling stock and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Add potatoes, bring to boil and simmer for another 10 minutes.
In the meantime, add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet, bring to the medium-high heat and sauté  beets and carrots for 2 minutes. Add beets and carrots to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add shredded cabbage, beans, tomato juice, vinegar, cumin, pepper and salt to the pot, bring to boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender, but still a bit crunchy. Check the seasoning and skim any foam. Remove from the heat. Discard the bay leaves.  Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with generous dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and parsley or dill. Serve immediately.