Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review: The Empanada House, Briarcliff Manor

I am a Yonkers resident, and don't often get up to Briarcliff Manor. On those rare occasions when I venture that far north, though, I usually stop by The Empanada House on Pleasantville Road. The Empanada House serves a wide variety of its eponymous pastries, which are an excellent alternative to pizza for diners in search of a quick meal.

The menu features meat-filled, vegetarian, and dessert empanadas, both traditional and "fusion". One classic is the beef "Mendocina" empanada, which is filled with ground beef flavored with green olives and red peppers. It's a good introduction to the empanada for carnivores. For vegetarians, the cheese and spinach empanadas are a good gateway to empanada addiction. The humita empanada, filled with ham, corn, and (if one so chooses) cheese, is a bit more of an acquired taste, but I like it. Dessert options are good as well, with guayaba and cheese being a stand-out. While most empanadas cost $3, the Empanada House often runs 2/$5 specials. All empanadas are typically fried, but you can request that they be baked.

If you are looking for a quick, light meal but want an alternative to pizza, check out The Empanada House if you are in the vicinity of Briarcliff Manor.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: Accent Thai Kitchen

I will admit to being extremely upset when Tum Raa Thai Cuisine, 629 McLean Ave, Yonkers, NY closed, but I am pleased to report that it has returned, under the same ownership, with twice the seating and an expanded menu, as Accent Kitchen.

Accent Thai Kitchen continues the tradition of high culinary standars that characterized Tum Raa. A hospitable staff will gladly answer any questions about menu items, and makes sure that the spice level of the dishes is tailored to the diner's taste.

The appetizer selection is fairly extensive, ranging from crisp spring rolls ($3.75 for 2) to delectable, melt-in-your-mouth curry puffs (also known as karipap, an order of 2 costs $4.95), chicken or beef satays (2 for $4.25), and fried fish balls (an order costs $4.95). I would recommend the curry puffs to a first-time visitor- the pastry shell of these empanada-like morsels is crisp and flaky, the moist chicken filling is sweet and spicy. They make a great introduction to Thai cuisine.

As far as main dishes go, one cannot go wrong with a cutty dish (chicken curries are $9.50, pork $9.75, beef $9..95, and shrimp $10.95- I am sure the staff would be happy to make a tofu curry for vegetarians). The red curry is a good introduction, bamboo shoots, bell pepper, and basil accompany the chosen main ingredient is a fragrant broth of coconut milk and red curry paste. Also on the list of curry selections are green curry, panang curry, yellow curry, Massaman currym, and the coconut-milk free jungle curry. I, myself, being a bit of a wiseguy, like to order the pork Massaman curry, which features potato, bell pepper, and onion in a curry sauce made with peanuts and coconut milk.

Noodle dishes are also a good main dish choice. Pad Thai is a good introduction to Thai noodle dishes ($9.50 for chicken, beef pork, or vegetable pad thai, $9.95 for shrimp pad thai)- the thin rice noodles are tossed with bean sprouts, dried tofu, egg, turnip, and scallion with a tamarind sauce, and garnished with ground peanuts. I prefer pad se-ew ($9.50), a dish which features flat noodles, similar to Chinese chow fun. Another interesting noodle dish is "daddy's noodles" (it's typically a special, I can't recall the price), a dish which echoes the "chow mein" of Chinese American restuarants, featuring seafood and vegetables in gravy served over a bed of crispy noodles, which slowly "reconstitute" as the meal progresses, with alternating bites of crunchy and soft noodles. "Daddy's noodles" are an interesting take on an old standard.

Seafood selections also excel, with fried pla choo chee ($12.95) being a particularly nice dish. Shrimp with basil (a $12.95 nightly special) was a delectable choice- the heat of the dish not obscuring the fragrant herbs which perfume the sauce.

Accent Thai Kitchen is the perfect small neighborhood restaurant. The staff takes an interest in presenting Thai food to those unfamiliar to it, and in keeping Thai food aficianados in love with the cuisine. The servers are pleasant and accomodating, the food prepared with care and sold at prices comparable to those at the average neighborhood take-out joint. Accent Thai is the perfect restaurant for a first date, whether with someone unfamiliar with Thai food, or someone who can casually throw around terms like "larb" or "nam pla".

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Menu

Sure, you can have your chocolates, and your champagne, but what would be a more fitting dish on Valentine's day than heart? Beef hearts, known as anticuchos in Peru, are inexpensive (I find them regularly at the Stop and Shop in the Cross County Mall for $1.29/pound) and tasty (being a muscle, the heart is perhaps the best organ meat for those who normally avoid offal). Considered dispassionately, beef heart tastes much like any other muscle (it has a bit more of a gamy, "mineral" flavor than most cuts of steak) but the meat is less "fibrous" than typical skeletal muscle. The meat also tends to be lean. I find that beef hearts make a great substitute for packaged "stew meat", and go well in chili and "steak and kidney" pies.

For those unwilling to make the commitment to cooking beef heart at home, anticuchos are available at local Peruvian restaurants such as Viru in Yonkers and Cholo's Kitchen in New Rochelle.

Another personal favorite of mine is the chicken heart- I typically saute chicken hearts with onions, or skewer them, give them a dry rub (one favorite blend is cumin, coriander, savory, black pepper, and salt), and throw them on the grill. Chicken hearts are highly prized in Brazilian cuisine. Again, for the individual who does not wish to experiment at home, a good place to try chicken hearts is Port Chester's Brazilian churrascaria Brasil International Café.

Now, who needs Valentine's Day chocolate when they can actually munch on hearts?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Culinary Confession

Bless me, James Beard, for I have sinned. It has been several months since my last culinary confession.

Inspired by a morbid curiosity, I staged an expedition to McDonald's to order a McRib sandwich. I was shocked by the somewhat decent quality of the roll on which the sandwich arrived, and by the presence of pickle slices and sliced raw onion. Of course, the sandwich was drowned in overly sweet BBQ sauce, which drowned out the flavor of the other ingredients (that's probably the point). The processed pork patty was moist but insipid, just a vehicle to deliver the high-fructose corn syrup sauce. For more assertive pork flavor, I'd go to a mom-and-pop for a Cuban sandwich or bánh mì, or roast a pork shoulder, and make a roast pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe sandwich at home.

When the McRib disappears from these parts, I will most certainly not mourn its disappearance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Foraging Season is Drawing to a Close

This week, I was able to get my hands on some fine wild grapes, but the clock is ticking, and my foraging activities will be ending soon.

October was a busy month for me, hence the lack of posts (I could have written about Halloween candy, but for an underdeveloped sweet-tooth), but I hope to restart this flagging, lagging blog of mine.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sumac, Savory Sumac

This time of year is the prime time for foraging for the fruit of the staghorn sumac. The bright red, fuzzy fuits have a sour flavor, and have been used extensively as a seasoning in Persian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Here are links to two takes on a "sumac chicken" recipe.

The easiest way to enjoy the flavor of sumac is to cut the fruit-laden cones off of the plants, wash them, steep them in water (I often do this in a jar left out in the sun), strain the resultant liquid, and sweeten it with simple syrup to make a beverage comparable to lemonade.

Of course, if you see any sumac plants with waxy white fruits, stay away.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Culinary Confession

Bless me, James Beard, for I have sinned... it's been quite some time since my last culinary confession.

On a trip to the woods, I ate... Spam. You see, not having access to nearby markets, and having a small propane-powered fridge, one has to use one's limited refrigeration capability wisely. Therefore, canned or "potted" meat is not a bad thing to take to the cabin.

Of course, Spam is pretty much a salty, oleaginous lump of pink stuff, with a texture not far off from slighty solidified pink goo. It can, however, be edible, even tasty, in the hands of a master Spammer. The key to Spam cookery is to cut the stuff wafer thin, and to fry it until it is golden-brown and crispy. I imagine the stuff could be used to make passable faux lardons, although a salad containing Spam as an ingredient seems to be a crime against both cuisine and nature.