by Julia Jean-Francois
Margarita, Mexican super chef
In my last cooking adventure with Margarita, she drew me into her web of Mexican delicacies with her savory, tart and green tasting Pipian Verde and spicy, red Caldo de Camaron . As she was packing up her kitchen tools and dusting off her apron she casually threw out a line that was aimed to reel me in for another culinary quest. “Have you ever made tamales?” she asked me, knowing full well that I had never done any such thing but would surely like to. “No, never!” I responded, “let’s try them!” And so we were off to the proverbial cooking races setting a date for our Tamal de Frijole fiesta.
Tamales are simple to make and look cute as a pack of buttons sitting upright in their steaming pot transforming in their stovetop sauna into hearty, stick to your ribs mouthfuls that happily take the place of simple tortillas or an uninspiring hunk of bread as a fortifying anchor for a plate of saucy pork or chicken. The tricky part, though it’s a pretty low level of trickiness, is to roll up the dough like a jelly roll without having the whole business fall apart. Luckily, my childhood experiences of wrestling with that dough that pops out of a can when you smack it on the edge of a counter, spreading it with cinnamon sugar and making my own version of cinnamon rolls, served me well as I successfully coaxed the springy dough off of the countertop and into a tidy log.
The second trick in the recipe is how to tell when the tamales are done. When fully cooked, the dough, which starts off a lot like a moist glob of play-doh that has just been taken out of its plastic bottle, should be almost crumbly and should have no springy, plastic quality to it. Margarita sent the tamales into cutie-cute orbit when she twisted one end of the corn husk wraps and poked them into the base of the tamal forming a little pig tail. It was all I could do not to pinch their little corn husk cheeks! Tamales are very versatile and can be filled with beans- as in this recipe- or with pork, cheese and green sauce, or any combination of ingredients that complement their corny base-flavors.
Thanks Margarita for another job well done! You have proven once again that you are one hot tamale in the kitchen!
by Julia Jean-Francois
Caldo de camarón (author's photo)
Margarita – chatty and charming, yes, but can her calabacitas and caldo de camarón deliver me into the many heavens of Mexican cuisine?
Some weeks ago, one of our staff nominated a new member for our recently launched Émigré Gourmet cooking collective. Margarita, we were assured, is a fine Mexican cook who knows all the ins and outs of the classic Mexican favorites. This sounded good, but could she put the proverbial frying pan onto the proverbial fire and turn out something fantastic?
If you love to cook, don’t miss our new, three-day course that introduces participants to the culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, the Middle East Latin America & the Caribbean. We invite you to learn techniques and recipes from the experienced home chefs of Émigré Gourmet – culinary craftswomen who will help you conjure the exotic flavors of their native cuisines – and chef instructors from Kingsborough Community College.
Those familiar with the neighborhood know that Sunset Park is a fascinating culinary destination. In its diverse immigrant communities, the ancient “spice route” is recreated in miniature within these three square miles of New York City. In the cultural groups that make up the Sunset Park, many families have preserved the culinary customs and traditions of their ancestors, and exotic ingredients they use to prepare these foods are relatively easy to come by. In this course, participants will not only to learn preparing traditional foods; the class will also provide an opportunity for informal discussion of the cultural context of each cuisine; for example, whether a certain dish is served to celebrate a bride’s wedding shower, to break the fast at Ramadan, or has some other particular significance.
Course sessions will take place on three consecutive Tuesday nights, beginning December 1, in our kitchen at Center for Family Life (345 43rd Street in Brooklyn). Sessions run from 6pm to 9pm. Cooking lessons are, of course, followed by a dinner together to enjoy the foods prepared by you and the instructors! The fee for the course is $150.
Class size is limited – reserve space now!
For more information, please contact Jessica Bonilla at (718) 633 4823 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Vanessa Bransburg
In May 2009 I attended the Brooklyn Food Conference at John Jay High School and PS 321 in Park Slope. The conference was organized by the Brooklyn Food Coalition, a grassroots initiative that aims to increase access to sustainable, healthy and delicious food for all. With over 2,500 people in attendance, the event was such an incredible success that organizers started thinking and planning for the next steps almost immediately.
In the last few months there has been a large effort to reach out to multiple neighborhoods in Brooklyn to get residents, workers, activists, and others involved in their particular neighborhood groups. Neighborhood groups have been discussing and selecting issues that concern them. Some of the issues that have been chosen by groups include getting healthier lunches in schools, organizing community gardens, food coops, and addressing workers’ rights issues.
In September, we had our first Sunset Park Neighborhood group meeting at the Sunset Park Recreation Center. About 20 people attended, mostly organizers and activists at local organizations. Unfortunately the meeting attendees did not fully represent the diverse demographics of Sunset Park. A few of us made sure to bring this up and made a commitment that we would all recruit more workers and residents from Sunset Park.
The main themes that were brought up by the attendees were workers’ rights issues, access to fresh food, and education around nutrition and various types of foods that are sold at green markets and community gardens.
The next meeting will be on Monday, October 19th at the Adult Employment Center of Center for Family Life (443 39th Street, 3rd Floor), where we will decide which issues we will tackle as the Sunset Park group. Anyone and everyone is welcome to join us for the exciting venture into the food world! For more information about the upcoming event, contact me at (718) 633-4823.
by Julia Jean-Francois
Luz Maria in her kitchen
The cooking adventure continues, and this month it took us on a virtual trip to Mexico with a visit to Luz Maria and her incredible mighty-mini Sunset Park kitchen. Luz Maria is a soft spoken and gracious young woman from the Mexican state of Puebla. In previous cooking lessons she has turned out the lightest, fluffiest chiles rellenos (stuffed poblano chiles) that we have ever had the unalloyed joy and happiness to sink our teeth into.
This month we persuaded her to show us a few new recipes, picaditas and enchiladas, both made with the best salsa verde that we’ve had in a long time. Hand made tortillas, soft, toothsome with a slightly nutty-sweet toasted ground corn flavor, knocked the whole experience out of the culinary grand stands. Luz claims she is nothing special in the kitchen, but we feel differently. Little by little, she is coming around to the possibility of joining our newly formed group of cooks offering private cooking lessons to eager home cooks in NYC. “Émigré Gourmet,” our cooking artist collaborative, would be the richer for Luz Maria’s joining up! Stay tuned for the launch of Émigré Gourmet in the upcoming weeks.
Recipes after the jump.
by Julia Jean-Francois
Julia Jean-Francois is Co-Director of Center for Family Life. She is also a food enthusiast with a keen interest in the cooking traditions of the different cultures that make up Sunset Park’s diverse community. We will be sharing her stories about her adventures in the cooking underworld of Sunset Park. Here is the first one, wherein she learns the secrets of making authentic Chinese dumplings.
This month I attended an authentic Chinese dumpling-making lesson with Jing Kien. This is the kind of opportunity that I am always on the lookout for, and so when Jing Kien’s granddaughter Jackie, a caseworker in our Family Counseling Program, graciously invited me to her grandmother’s home to learn her family dumpling recipe for a cookbook we are writing, I eagerly accepted. Continue reading