Monthly Archives: May 2014

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
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.

One year ago: Thai Chicken Burger
Yields: 12 portions
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
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.

Cream of Leeks, Potatoes & Foraged Greens

Easy, fast and to the point, this soup is a take on the classic cream of leeks and potatoes. Sorrel adds a touch of tartness; nettle brings a touch of delicate tanginess and both make an extra nutritious boost to the meal. Creamy and hearty (without a cream), this light starter is an excellent spring tonic. And if you have no foraged greens, no biggie: use spinach or parsley or both instead for equally delicious and nutritious result. The cream of leeks, potatoes and foraged greens goes very well with more flavor-complex crunchy quesadillas, like the ones with a smoked salmon, or goat cheese, olive oil dried tomatoes, both of which add remarkable rich-salty-savory and texture contrast to the soup.  This soup also pairs fantastically with crisp salted cod croquettes such as these wonderful accras de morue bites. OR, bacon, for that matter…

For the first time my monumental yearly battle with weeds in our backyard is turning into something beautiful. Learning to enjoy some of the wild nature’s gifts, I’m totally in Redzepi’s state of mind wandering in the garden of weeds and collecting dandelions, violets, burdock, clover, and other lush green edibles.  Up until recently, the foraging knowledge and skills have all but disappeared from our lives, but now that the foraging trend got back on a horse, it helps to reinstate the nutritional and medicinal importance of the wild plants in our daily regimen. I’m happy about it and so I’m picking the nettles and sorrel like its nobody’s business for my soup of the day.

IMPORTANT: Always wear gloves (to not be stung) and use cutter (not to spoil the tender leaves) when foraging stinging nettle and select the youngest species that have no flowers yet.

Although sorrel has been used in European cuisine for centuries and has been admired by many, from Monet to Julia Child, it is somewhat of an acquired taste because of its lemon sourness, so if you are the beginner, you might wish to start with a smaller sorrel batch in the soup not to overpower the nice and creamy leek-potato background taste. The same with the nettle: although it incorporates very well into an array of soups, its hardening taste is quite particular, so, again, begin with a moderate amount and let the leeks shine through.

Garnish the soup with a little quail egg (eggs work very well with sorrel sourness) and/or chopped chives, parsley or other greens of your choice. Optionally, you can add a dollop of sour cream or cream, or lace your soup with some olive oil. Serve with above suggested quesadillas (see the smoked fish post), home-made crackers, toasted baguette, and/or maybe some crispy bacon on a side or freshly crumbled (my favorite). Enjoy!

What is next on my foraging agenda?  How about dandelion wine? I recently tasted it at the party and got very curious about it. There are so many recipes on the Internet, but my principal question is: is it regular active dry yeast like in Chef Ricardo’s recipe or special wine yeast like in many othersthat we should use?  If any of you, dear readers have some successful experience with dandelion wine making, please let me know. 

That’s about it for my most recent foraging practice and interests. I hope you will find some of use. Cheers!

3 tbsp unsalted butter
2-3 cups or 3 medium-sized leeks (white and light green parts only), washed and sliced
3 cups potatoes (baking kind), peeled and cubed
½ cup or 1 celery stalk, chopped (optional)
8 cups chicken, or vegetable broth, or water
1 bouquet garni (1 thyme spring, 1 bay leaf and few parsley springs tied with kitchen spring) (optional)
1 cup (2 big handfuls) fresh sorrel leaves, stems and tough ribs removed
1 cup (8 oz) fresh nettles or spinach
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chives or parsley for garnish, minced
½ cup crème fraiche or plain Greek yogurt for garnish
Melt the butter in a large pot, add leeks and cook over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes. Add potatoes, celery and chicken stock (or water), bouquet garni, bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add sorrel, nettles or spinach leaves and cook just until wilted for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Puree the soup in batches in blender. Reheat if necessary or serve cool garnished with chives or minced parsley and a dollop of crème fraiche or plain yogurt.   

Go Wild and Try Some Violets

Today is special: my best college friend happens to have her anniversary. We never collected violets together, but we did have some crazy-wild, beautiful times that I will never forget. Happy Birthday, dear Ira! Here’s to our friendship: make a dive back into the 90s with this good old school gem from our past. You’re probably too busy now to do anything with violets, but I hope one day you will return from wherever in the world you are now celebrating, and check your e-mail, and find this message, and will be set adrift on memory bliss like me today. And then, eventually, maybe you will even try some of my recipes. Cheers!
My other best friend from Toronto will have her birthday around Victoria’s Day and what can be more Victorian than violets on that day? Happy upcoming B-Day to you, my friend AB, I love you dearly and think about you very often! Another Cheers!  
Back to our food business. Blissfully, our (not chemically treated) lawn is currently invaded by wild violets this spring which I’ve been previously collecting for flower arrangements, but this year I put my hands on developing recipes with them. I always knew that wild violets are highly medicinal: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous, high in vitamin C and A, great to relief coughs and sore throats. Never before though I tried them on my palate, but following the Nordic cuisine focus on the native produce, and René Redzepi’s inspiration credo that ‘there’s no conflict between better meal and better world’ I decided to go foraging  and experiment with this new ingredient.  It took no time to figure out that freshly picked edible wild violets (please make sure you are dealing with wild violets, not the decorative ones) are mostly used to garnish dishes, but the vinegar based on them can be applied to an array of foods. I’ve made some research and here are the dishes I came up with using violets and/or violet vinegar:  Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup for a hot day; Green Pistachio Violet Salad for a light healthy lunch; Bacon Asparagus with Violet Vinegar Reduction Appetizer for a decadent treat and, finally, Violet Dressed Cupcakes for celebrations. I’ll begin with the violet infused vinegar.
Violet Infused Vinegar:
I used rice vinegar, but you can use any kind of basic vinegar as a base, depending what kind of result you’re looking for – delicate (based on a rice, apple cider or champagne vinegar) or more acidic (white, red or white wine vinegar). Collect violets from clean and pesticide-free areas, preferably where cats or dogs do not make their breaks. Fill the glass bottle/jar about half full of violets and pour vinegar of your choice over them to fill up. Use a non-metallic cork to close and let the vinegar sit for a week in a cool dark place. It will become between a pink and magenta color hues depending on the flowers-stems ratio and the hue of the violets. Strain the vinegar and store for a year or longer in a glass container. You can use only flowers for a darker color, or flowers with stems for a lighter one. Here are the steps:

Cucumber Almond Violet Cold Soup inspired by classic Spanish Cucumber Almond Gazpacho and a lovely Spanish girl (Hola, Ana!). When freshly picked, the violets faintly smell like a cucumber or a grape candy, so I had the idea to use them along with violet vinegar in a cold gazpacho-style soup with almonds, grapes and cucumbers. An absolute must try on a hot spring-summer day, with or without the violet garnish. Killer app: add some red grapes to the soup mix to enhance the color-coordinated violet look.

Green Pistachio Violet Salad inspired by Watercress Pistachio and Orange-Blossom Salad by Chef Yotam Otolenghi: 
I replaced the watercress with spring mix, skipped the herbs and swapped the lemon juice for the mix of the violet vinegar mixed with ½ teaspoon of rose water in otherwise similar dressing, and of course, added some fresh violets. Light, slightly flowery, pistachio crunchy and well-balanced dish to go with toasted bread or the next dish (bacon!).

Inspired by Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt by Chef Redzepi:

Most of us have experienced the power of pork and vinegar combination in cooking or marinating. Most of us also love bacon (and some are ready to kill for it). Inspired by Chef René Redzepi’s recipe of Pork Neck and Bulrushes with Violets and Malt from his cookbook NOMA, I cooked the bacon, made a reduction of bacon cooking juice (½ cup) with a mix of apple cider (1 tbsp), violet (1 tsp) and balsamic vinegar (1 tsp) and laced the mix of crisp bacon and crunchy steamed asparagus with it. To die for: 
Inspired by Poulet let au Vinaigre de Vin (Chicken With Wine Vinegar) by Chef Bocuse:
The low-acid violet flavoured vinegar suggested a take on a classic French country dish, which celebrity Chef Paul Bocuse is famous for. I baked it instead of pan frying and replaced tomatoes with scallions for a spring touch. And, of course, I garnished it with some fresh violets – stunner of a great tasty dish! 
Finally, edible violet flowers make glamorous dessert topping on the cakes, muffins, cupcakes, parfait, yogurt, sorbet, ice cream, salted caramel, you name it, as well as the violet essence that can give totally different taste. Check how to make candied violets to use in desserts here. 

I had a wonderful time experimenting with violets and I do hope you will try some of them or that some of them will be an inspiration to you.

Yields: 2 servings
200 g blanched almonds
200 g white bread, crust removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cucumber
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp violet vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
10 ice cubes
Salt & pepper
100 g white grapes
50 g blanched almonds
few slivered slices of cucumber
5 fresh violet flowers (optional)
Mix garlic, bread, almonds, cucumber, ice cubes, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor. Start adding olive oil gradually to reach the right consistency. Taste for the seasoning, ad a bit of extra salt. Put in a fridge for a few hours. Wash the grapes and cut them and almonds in half. Slice the cucumbers very thinly. Garnish the soup with grapes, almonds, strips of cucumber and fresh violets right before serving.
Yields: 4-6 servings
1.5 to 1.8 kg chicken parts (preferably free-range)
Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper, to rub the chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup violet vinegar (or champagne, or rice vinegar)
1 bunch (6-8) scallions, chopped
¾ cup chicken stock
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
20 fresh violet flowers for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400F. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, rub salt and pepper in and set aside to air dry for at least 30 minutes. Pat dry chicken pieces with paper towels, rub with olive oil. Place (do not crowd) the chicken in a deep baking pan (2-3 inches) greased with 1 tablespoon of butter, skin side down and cook in the oven uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Turn once for another 10 minutes to brown the chicken on all sides.  Add garlic, return to the oven for 5-7 minutes. Gradually add vinegar mix and scallions and return to the oven uncovered for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 350F, cover with aluminum foil and finish roasting in the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and to your taste. Remove the chicken and transfer to warmed platter. Collect the cooking juices, bring them to boil and simmer in a small saucepan to reduce by 1/3. Add remaining butter and adjust the seasoning adding salt, pepper and parsley. Pour over the chicken. Garnish with fresh violets (if available). Serve with roasted or steamed veggies of your choice, a green salad and crusty bread.

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!



Basic Smoked Fish Spread or Dip
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
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
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
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.