Posts Tagged ‘Queens’


Handed down. (EMPANADAS)

March 18, 2015


I was introduced to empanadas as a late night drunken treat in the deepest depths of Queens. The version we ate were greasy and deep fried, stuffed with ground up meat and some questionable, grizzly bits. Perfect drinking food. I will confess that Janine and I called them “Keebleros” because, in our boozy haze, we couldn’t remember what they were really called. We thought this was hilarious.

Empanadas vary greatly from country to country and are interpreted further still, by region. Colombia and Venezula deep fry their stuffed creations while Chile and Argentina bake theirs in the oven. In general, empanadas can be cooked either way and filled with anything; meat, cheese, egg, spinach, fruit, shrimp or squash, in infinite combinations. A basic (if not totally traditional) empanada is anything that tastes good wrapped in dough, which is almost anything. The key to success is pretty simple. As long as the filling you have created tastes great, your empanadas will be voraciously devoured by anyone you offer them to. Take into consideration, the doughy exterior will tone down the filling, so it’s important that whatever you are stuffing in is seasoned well.

Years after my experience with Keebleros, I befriended the lovely Erica and became close with her family, who relocated to New York from the San Juan province of Argentina. As a result of this friendship, I am introduced to a whole new genre of amazing tastes. Chimichurri! Alfajores! Maté! Malbec! When Christmas rolls around, among the many delicious foods served, one of the family’s traditions is a heaping platter of freshly baked empanadas; stuffed with beef (picadillo), a green olive and a small chunk of hard-boiled egg. Guests are encouraged to eat as many as they possibly can …and to compete while doing it! I couldn’t quite beat out brother, but I held my own, foregoing other dishes so that more empanadas could fit.

Then the learning began. There were years that we helped punch the homemade dough* into submission, years that we browned kilo after kilo of beef, and many lessons about twisting the edges just right. Often times, Erica would arrive at my family’s holiday party with a heaping platter just for us, and it quickly became a ritual anticipated by all.

Because of these awesome memories –and sheer deliciousness– I have adapted the very same empanadas sanjuaninas as one of my favorite celebrational foods too. They are a perfect self-contained party dish. Easy to transport (I should know, I used to fill my pockets with them), and effortless to serve. Heat them if you have the means, but I have never seen empanadas refused neither cold nor at room temp. It is obvious, just by looking, that they are made with love. And so, the excitement continues to generate.


(Makes about 10 empanadas using 5-inch dough circles)

1 pound ground beef

2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon cumin

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

a few dashes of hot sauce (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and roughly chopped

10 small pimento-stuffed green olives

10 Goya Discos para empanadas (1 package), thawed

1 egg, whisked in a small bowl with a tablespoon of water

  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Start warming a skillet over medium heat, add half of the oil and the beef. Wait for some sizzling sounds and occasionally break up the beef with a spoon as it cooks. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. When the meat is thoroughly browned, lift it from the skillet with a slotted spoon and put aside in a big bowl.
  • Wipe out the skillet and warm the second tablespoon of oil. Brown the onions (about 8 minutes). Add the garlic and the next five spices until toasted and fragrant, another 5 minutes. Add a small splash of oil if dry.
  • Stir the onion mixture into the ground beef, combining well. Add hot sauce, if using. This is picadillo! Taste for seasoning. If needed add salt, pepper, etc.
  • Lay the dough circles on a work surface and brush half of each with the raw egg mixture.
  • Place a mound of picadillo (about three heaping tablespoons) on each circle. Put one olive and a piece of egg with the meat on each round.
  • Fold the dough into a half-moon shape over the meat-olive-egg pile and press to seal. Gather up small sections from the edge where the two sides meet and pinch them together in one-inch intervals, further sealing the dough. Another option is to push the two sides together by pressing down to ‘crimp’ them with a fork. Repeat with all meat/circles.
  • Place finished empanadas on a baking sheet and brush the tops with the remaining raw egg mixture. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the exterior is golden and crisped.

* I am a busy lady, (frozen) Goya discos are my secret weapon, and puff pastry could be a last-resort substitute. But pleeease feel free to make your own dough.

Here lies post from way back, it talks about a sweet-savory experiment:




December 30, 2012


When the Saints played the Colts in Superbowl XLIV (2010) I made up this dish, Mussels in Chorizo and Beer. It was the product of us being in a foreign neighborhood and running around trying to find cool ingredients for an extraordinary Superbowl concoction to make at our friends’ place. While it was being eaten almost no one yelled at the TV.

Even though it has no particular cultural alliance, once the mussels and chorizo came together I felt like it was reminiscent of something my Italian grandparents or great grandparents would have served back in the day. Back when Sundays were still a red sauce based, all day eating affair and calamari with the tentacles still totally freaked me out. (The ‘rubber bands’ were okay though.) All of my aunts, uncles and cousins would fight for a seat in the dining room, the losers sent to the card table parked in the back bedroom. I was the youngest and had my choice of laps to sit on, a great strategy especially at dessert.

The Christmas after that gourmet Superbowl when my cousins and I decided to honor the Feast of the Seven Fishes, I knew exactly what my contribution would be. We simmered pounds and pounds (and pounds and pounds) of mussels in the garlicky tomato sauce studded with spiced sausage. A side of pasta for folks like my dad and sliced up focaccia for the dunkers. The table groaned under six more fish, two more pasta dishes, salads and sides galore. It was a beautiful sight. All of the foods we were most excited about, all at once.

In more recent years we have experimented with some other seafoods and we have learned how to reign it in. This year, back by popular demand, we made the mussels again. I think they might become a regular addition to the table. We have some traditions and they are not strict, but it is sure that favorites will make an appearance; manicotti, antipasto with the biggest hunk of Parmiggiano you have ever seen, killer seafood salad, rum cake. Somehow even a platter of sushi has made it into the yearly mix. Our feast grows and changes a bit each Christmas, as does our family and by the same token it has a strong foundation in our history and represents the memories we share however hazy they may be. (Next year I promise to nail down the recipe for Pete’s Seafood Salad That We Think Grandma Used To Make.) The resulting dinner, both nostalgic and new, reflects everyone who has participated in it. And out of love, it also reflects all of those who eat it.


1 pound chorizo or hot Italian sausage

1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 tablespoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large can chopped tomatoes

1 can beer

1/4 cup fresh dill or other fresh herb

4 pounds mussels, scrubbed

salt and pepper

  • Cook chorizo in a large saucepan, breaking it up into pieces until browned.
  • Remove meat with a slotted spoon and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
  • Add butter to the saucepan and sautee onion, shallot, red pepper flakes and fennel seed with a touch of salt and pepper.
  • Stir in garlic and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add beer and dill.
  • Bring to a boil again and add mussels.
  • When most of the mussels have opened and are cooked through, Remove them and arrange in a large serving dish. Pick out and discard any mussels that have not opened.
  • Boil the tomato mixture for about 3 minutes, add the chorizo back in and heat through.
  • Season well and pour over the mussels in the dish.

Serve with bread for dipping.

(Photo courtesy of Jackii Laurenzano)


Dear Dosa Hutt,

August 31, 2009


4563 Bowne St • Flushing, Queens

You don’t see me much, I know. For me, it is sort of a rare treat to be in the thick of Queens. Most likely I would go there to visit a loved one back in the old stomping grounds and, in that case, they are probably feeding me something as opposed to me feeding my own yen. This is both blessing and curse because there are just so many amazing treats to sampled in the town of Flushing. For as much as I want to break bread with the family, I will often eat twice, once at the table and once in transit on the way to the train or bus stop. Clearly I don’t get there enough.

When I do wander through those alphabetically named streets of mid-Flushing, I begin to feel the pang. The sensation that draws me to your storefront and makes me get in line. It is your signature dosa, the giant crackling, crispy cylinder of dal deliciousness I cannot pass up from a ten-mile radius. I have been up and down your menu and I still don’t know what the difference is between the various dosas but who cares! They are always exceptional (as are the uttapams and the idlis) and leave dosas sought elsewhere trampled in the dust. Some sources claim you offer the best dosas in the city and I dare someone to deny it. To eat at another South Indian restaurant leads me only to long for your goodness, simplicity and pride in your outstanding food. Do not be intimidated by your imposter, the Dosa Hut on Lexington and 28th, they’ve got nothing on you…two T’s means it’s good. And don’t you forget it.




Dear Tofu and Noodles,

February 4, 2009


40-06 Queens Blvd • Sunnyside, Queens

I know that’s not your real name, but can I call you that? Book Chang Dong sounds so formal. To me you are ‘Tofu and Noodles’, my special friend and neighbor, and that is how I have come to love you. There, I’ve said it finally. I love you! And now I am going to take my sweet time telling you all of the reasons why.

You have the best banchan in the whole city and you hand it over quickly and generously. I usually show up ravenous. As soon as the order is placed (which I sometimes do before even taking my jacket off), the banchan arrives without a moment’s delay. Little round bowls are heaped with hot, sweet, salty, briny bites of seaweed salad, fish cake, marinated cucumbers or bean sprouts, potato salad, shredded daikon, those little crunchy fish with the heads on and/or, of course, the housemade kimchi, which is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. All of these things are ingeniously designed to make you want more food as you eat them and they are always fresh and super-delicious. I usually clear my little plates systematically, leaving the chilled spicy garlic soup banchan for last. That one gets eaten when the main course is served in a feeble attempt buy some valuable cooling time, since most dishes arrive on sizzling platters or in hot stone bowls. I have suffered many burned tongues and would suffer many more.

You take good care of me! I don’t think I’ve had a single cold or flu since making your acquaintance! If ever I feel a little vulnerable to catching something, I march immediately to your door to have a meal that arms me to fight it off. I think Korean cuisine in general has these special powers but you are like a secret weapon. It is the perfect combination of intense spice which is very cleansing, the fermented items (like kimchi) which help balance out the system and fresh veggies, sprouts and seaweed that are packed with nutrients. It seems to kick start the immune system and knocks out any trace of a bug. Every dish comes with soft, shiny rice which is soothing to the insides and the hearty warmth of the meal certainly helps to restore a person back to optimum health.

And while I am here counting the ways, I have to praise your soon dubu chigae*, a dish that you make so well, I crave it in my sleep. I will not eat it in Flushing and have no use for it in K-town. It is the specialty which takes up one-half of your menu with its varieties (most of which I have sampled) and it always impresses Korean friends I have brought in who grew up eating the stuff. It also turns people who have never even thought of eating bubbling, boiling soft tofu stew into chigae-junkies. It is mandatory to eat it slowly. It makes a person sweat and sniffle with joy. I have noticed that as it cools, its flavor gets better and better and by the end of the bowl I am completely stuffed and completely happy, which is not only good for the body but also the soul.

I just thought you should know how wonderful you are.


*Soon dubu chigae = Soft tofu stew.


Banchan are like snowflakes, no two are alike.