not only cooking

We just finished repainting our banquet hall. And did a new floor. And like two hundred other things. 35 gallons of paint. Check the pictures.

2013-07-28 22.08.58 2013-07-28 22.07.14 2013-07-28 22.09.48 2013-08-010

Leave a comment

Filed under Posts

Two Fat Ninjas

DSC_0079

We are the Two Fat Ninjas

Yes, we are considering to change our company name to “Two Fat Ninjas Catering”.

Sounds funny. Looks funny. It definitely is kind of funny. But we might look and sound funny, but trust me, we are also serious – very, very serious about food.

Let me explain.

First of all: would you trust a pilot who is afraid of heights? Would you trust a surgeon who is squeamish, disgusted by blood?

Then why would you ever trust a skinny cook?

We at Old Country love food. We love good food. And we cook some of the best food around. I know, I tried most of it…

We make food that is bold. With a taste that is daring and forward. We are not scared of Butter, Bacon, Suet, Bone Marrow or Pork Fat.

We roast Veal bones to make our own Demi Glace. We fire burn the chili peppers for our own sauce. There is 6 other different vegetables pureed in our tomato sauce. We do not compromise.

We do not serve bland, factory made food. We make our food from scratch.

Our Meatballs are made with real Meat. And Balls.

2013-08-10 21.10.27

We make food that is strong, that is not fat free, sugar free, cholesterol free, taste free. Food that you should not eat every day. But we run a banquet facility. For Banquets. For Parties. It is the food you eat when you celebrate. It is the food that you praise yourself. It is a treat. That is the food you choose to rejoice, jubilate, feast. Hearty comfort food to honor life.

DSC_0128

No, we, are not going to live to be hundred…. with the life we live, even fifty is going be a jackpot, but we will try it all and live it all and feel it all.

Do we want to be fat? No we don’t. Do we like to be fat. No we don’t. Do we have to be fat? Oh, hell, yes, yes we do. If food is the job, the life we have chosen, than we will do the food we love, and we will live the life we love and we will live it, eat it, explore it fully and carelessly.

2013-05-24 15.57.19

“To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. “ Anthony Bourdain

I know Antony Bourdain also said that work in the kitchen is too demanding, too busy to get fat; that you need to be skinny to move through the kitchen and all the running staff. Well, I love the guy but he is wrong. I worked in kitchens of many great chefs, and I will tell you, when the chef comes, everybody moves out of his way. I was skinny when I was a busboy in Spain. That was 18 years ago.

A time is coming when 20 billion people will have to live from food that will only remind us of the foods we can eat today. Food printed in 3D printers, meat that was grown in labs from stem cells, genetically modified tasteless vegetables… If we want to survive, as humanity, this is how it will have to be.

I just had a vacation and ate (and prepared in a special charcoal oven) some of the last Adriatic octopus; and the tuna and cod we are eating right now will disappear in our lifetime.

2013-06-26 18.29.33

But while I am here, I will cook and eat things some people already just remember from their youth.

3 Comments

Filed under Posts

Where?

People ask me where do I come from. Often.

It must be my terrible accent that you can not hear while reading the blog. Well, I guess you can. Here on the blog, it is manifested as a not so good sentence building skill, a poor or insane choice of words in a wrong place – a result of the speedy use of the spelling corrector. I do apologize for this – and I invite you to freely lough at those mistakes that create misunderstandings and hilarious and illogical new meanings.

I still have the letter I sent to the Health Department when I was renewing the license 4 years ago in which I guarantee that I will fix the licking faucet in next seven days…

Anyway, I do not feel bad about missing some words. I have lived here for less then 5 years and I speak fluently 4 more languages. I was told by a customer the other day that I speak a perfect “American” but with a thick “British” accent… I will not comment on that.

Anyway, where do I come from: Croatia, a former part of something called Yugoslavia. Nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Ukraina (some people here tend to mix this two) or with Russia (because I have a Russian name).

Croatia is a small country settled on the Adriatic sea, between Austria and Italy, just across from Venice and north from Greece and Albania. It has only 4 million inhabitants (less than Manhattan and Bronx together for example) but has a coast so broken in thousand of peninsulas, bays and over 1200 islands that it has more beaches than the entire east coast of US. On this beaches (and hotels) we can accommodate over 10 million of tourists each year. N Nowadays that is pretty much everything we do.
But we did have a glorious history. In the past we were responsible for stopping the Muslim invasion (one of) on Europe (200 years of Croatian Ottoman War), inventing the necktie, double entry bookkeeping, the parachute, forensic medicine, the Crab Cioppino,  the zeppelin, aluminum,  Zinfandel wine, a pencil, torpedo and alternate electricity (Tesla was Croatian). Interestingly enough, the only invention of those listed above that entered the list of 100 most important inventions of all time is – the necktie.
We had champions and record keepers in almost every sport and tournament – from Wimbledon to soccer but I would not know any of them. We had famous writers, actors, musicians… But people will remember us for a gruesome war we participated and won two decades  ago. And I will not write about that.

Before defining myself as a Croatian (I do not even do that, where you are born does not define you), I would first be an Istrian – Istria is a small part of Croatia on the Adriatic sea that used to be part of Italy before Italy lost the war… Istrian people are different than the rest of Croatia. For example – I am not aware of any famous Istrian people ever, of any inventions originated from Istria, any world famous writer or musician or athlete… We never won any wars. We were actually invaded by almost everybody in the European history, from Greece, Napoleon to Hitler and Mussolini – and we never put up any fight.

What we always were – and what we still are, what defines us and describes us is – hospitality. We lived there, in our small picturesque towns, in a country nicer than Toscany, nicer than the French Riviera, for thousand of years doing nothing but welcoming tourists. The nobles of the ancient Rome build the first summer houses there – and those just got bigger and more modern over the centuries – turning into 5star hotels now. Hotels, restaurants, services for the rich and powerful of the Europe, this is where I came from, this is my background, my genes.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Posts

WHAT DOES A COOK COOK WHEN HE IS COOKING FOR ANOTHER COOK (OR FOR FAMILY&FRIENDS)

In a usual week I cook f chicken Marsala or Chicken Francaise… Two gallons of white wine based sauces (yes, some of the wine I even put in the sauce!). I bake and slice at least 50 lb of Angus Sirloin, and probably some 5 whole pork loins, baked whole with herbs crust and served in mushroom sauce.

In the same time my old Polish ladies in the same kitchen cook endless trays of Pierogi, Kielbasa, Sauerkraut, Stuffed Cabbage… Tons and tons of it every week Literary tons. I process a ton of just cabbage every week.

I shouldn’t say that, but it will not come to you as a surprise – I can’t eat no chicken Marsala or Roasted Beef or Pierogi or Stuffed Cabbage any more… Although I can cook those with no effort – for me, my family or my friends – just add a bit more to the pan – I just can’t.

I had some private parties in last month or so (seems that everybody, including me, was born in March and April), I had some family and friends over – even some fellow colleagues (cooks) – and I took some pictures of the food that I prepared for us.

Here is what a cook cooks when he is cooking for himself and friends.

2013-03-10 10.44.40

Yes, that is Foie Grasse. There has to be some foie Grass on this list, this is a self indulgent, rebel, sinful list, and as such it is bound to be immoral and a bit perverse. Yes, there it is, perfectly fried goose liver in its own grease.

I serve it just like that, on a piece of Croissant, in a reduced Modena vinegar… – to me. But my family prefers it made into a paste, with some good sweet cognac and/or Porto, spread on a piece of toast… If you never tried it, you should, it is a taste and texture that is unlike anything else.

2013-03-10 15.20.01

Then, here is my American revelation – Corned Beef. I love American beef, it is far superior to the terrible dry, tasteless, chewy thing we cook in Europe. But to put the hardest (and the tastiest) muscle of Beef in the Brine we use for Ham – that was an idea of a genius. I just love to prepare Corned Beef, not only in March.

And just like you will never find meatballs&pasta or anything like the Italian sausage in Italy, you will surprise any European Irish with the Corned Beef. It is not much used there (nowadays they do sell it to the tourists, they just have too) and it never was. Although it was produced there since the 12th century, it was a luxurious commodity sold exclusively to the British. Irish never ate any of it – and this is why it became so popular among Irish immigrants in New York – something rare and too expensive in their home country here was so cheap and everywhere.

I shouldn’t, but I will tell you my secret of making the perfect Corned Beef. I cook it in a mixture of beer and beef broth (yes, half&half, 9 perfectly good heinekens went into that pot). I don’t like to use Guiness – to much caramel and sourness. When is fork tender I take out and bake it in a very hot oven for 15 minutes just to turn that pink outside fat into a delicious brown crust. I skip the cabbage (see the beginning of the post) and eat it with my amazing mashed potatoes (a lot – a lot – of good yellow butter).

You will notice I cook a lot with beer and wine. It is always funny when every week I buy all that cheap wine and beer at the store. They do not know I am cooking with it…Last time the clerk finally asked me:

  • Having a bunch of friends over again, right?
  • No, no, it’s all for me, – I responded absentmindedly.
  • Oh, – the clerk nodded with a smirk.No, no, no, thought panicking, I’m not an alcoholic.
  • I, I cook with it, it’s all for cooking.
  • Yes, that’s what they all say – she said with a smile, leaving me wondering if she believed me and was only joking – or not.

20130406_090114

Here is a picture of me cooking with beer again. Those are pork shanks, the most delicious part of the pork, really. I baked them in all that beer, 20 onions, 10 garlic heads and water and pepper cloves…. for 8 hours. When all the fat melts, when that skins turns into a purple brown thin crust and the meat gets soaked in the most wonderful and rich broth ever, then it is ready.

That what you see there is 60 lb of pork shanks, 40 pieces. 10 pigs lifetime commitment. It was barely enough for 30 hungry Polish guests. Go figure.

Good Polish Mustard. Sauerkraut. More beer.

I skim the fat from the broth that is left in a pot, I add to it some pieces of the meat, some boiled vegetables, maybe a boiled egg, a bit of vinegar – and cool it down in a bowl. Then I just thurn the bowl upside down on a plate – and you have the most fantastic jello ever (I do not like sweets too much).

2013-03-24 13.33.59

And fish, I cook so much fish for myself. Check out my cookbook somewhere on this blog – it is mostly fish. Fried on a hot hot olive oil and then covered with olives. I do not salt or season this fish – the olives have all the salt necessary. There are few tastes that go together so good like fish and olives. No other spices needed. Except the wine, of course.

Like they say in my country, fish swims three times – in the sea, in the oil and in the wine.

That last part you mix in your mouth and belly.

1 Comment

Filed under Posts

busy in the kitchen

Pretty busy today in our kitchen. it is always busy in that kitchen, when i think of it… funny thing i noticed, during the week we always have at least twice more people working in the kitchen then we have customers. that is a good statistic – as far as i know only the best restaurants in the world have 2 or more people working for every guest.
But we are not one of the best restaurants in the world, any many a customer that walks in the deli will actually have a completely different experience. He will have to call for somebody to serve him, nervously make noises, open and close the fridge until someone from the kitchen comes to help him, and he will have to wait for his order, always. because we are busy as hell. busy. Busy, busy. The phone doesn’t stop ringing, the stoves are on fire, cooking and cooking tons of food. For whom? you might ask,  nervous just as our store customers.
We cook, mostly, for other restaurants. Our biggest customers are other restaurants and deli stores. What people don’t know is that almost  everywhere in a 50 miles radius where they find some good polish pierogi, crepes, kroketi, kluski, sauerkraut,  mushroom golabki, cabbage soup – it was probably made in our kitchen.

Maybe we are not making that much money like by selling directly to the customers, maybe we are not getting famous and building a name, but still, it is something to be proud of, being chosen by the cooks, chefs, themselves, making food that even after defrosting is still way way better than any cheaper, big industry products that this cooks could find.

Leave a comment

Filed under Posts

Lasagna

And once again I’m saved by the miracle of… lasagne!
Garfield

The original lasagne (“alla Bolognese”) uses only Parmigiano Reggiano, Bolognese sauce and nutmeg flavored béchamel sauce (besciamella).
Today, there are hundreds of lasagne variants, from artichoke spinach lasagne to spicy chipotle lasagne to vegetarian and seafood versions. The dish lends itself to creative use of ingredients by home cooks as well as chefs.

Although the dish is generally believed to have originated in Italy, the word “lasagna” comes from the Greek lasana or lasanon meaning “trivet or stand for a pot”, “chamber pot”. The Romans borrowed the word as “lasanum”, in Latin, meaning “cooking pot”. The Italians used the word to refer to the dish in which lasagna is made. It wasn’t long before the name of the food took on the name of the serving dish, same as it happened in the previous chapter with paella and the paellera.

The key in making good lasagne is the meat sauce. The secret is in slow simmering. It might get as long as six hours, but on the other hand the hard work will be done in 30-45 minutes.
The other thing are the ingredients: the quality of the meat determines the quality of the souce. It is better to cook larger quantities: grab 600g of minced beef (assuming you trust your butcher, that is, or mince it yourself as I do), 200g of italian sausage and 100g of pancetta or lard in very small cubes and no less than 1.5kg of ripe tomatoes. The excess could be refigerated easily – the souse is acctualy even better next day.

Start with tomatoes first. Get a pan with boiling water and a bowl with cold/iced water, cut a cross over the tomatoes, and poach them in the boiling water for no more than a minute. Throw them in the cold water and watch the skin fall apart. Peel the tomatoes, cut them in four and throw the seeds away. Sprinkle some salt on the clean tomato quarters and put them in a drainer for twenty minutes. You will be amazed to see how much water the tomatoes will lose.
While the tomatoes are draining, put a pan on the fire and prepare some soffritto (see Secret ingredients), remove aside and roughly clean the pan, pour no less than three spoonfuls of olive oil on high heat and throw the minced meat/sausage/pancetta in. Let everything toast and brown, add the soffritto back with a couple of glasses of white wine and finally let the drained tomatoes join the pan, together with a nice cup of beef stock. Let everything get to the boiling point, then lower the fire to the minimum possible heat. Don’t – ever – put a lid on. Stop by the pan every twenty minutes or so for a good stir and,

Ingredients (serves 8)
2 tsp olive oil
1 brown onion, halved, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
750g beef mince
200g sausage
100 g panceta
1,5 kg ripe tomatoes or 3 x 400g cans Italian diced tomatoes
125ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine
55g (1/4 cup) tomato paste
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, extra, to grease
fresh lasagne sheets
55g (1/2 cup) coarsely grated parmesan
Mixed salad leaves, to serve

 White  sauce
1L (4 cups) milk
8 fresh parsley stalks
8 whole black peppercorns
4 whole cloves  garlic
2 bay leaves
60g butter
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
70g (1 cup) finely grated parmesan
Pinch ground nutmeg
Salt & ground white pepper

 
after a couple of hours, add a good glass of milk as the perfect finishing touch to your meat sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, to make the white sauce, combine the milk, parsley stalks, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside for 15 minutes to infuse.
Strain the milk mixture through a fine sieve into a large jug. Discard solids.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until mixture bubbles and begins to come away from the side of the pan. Remove from heat.
Gradually pour in half the milk, whisking constantly with a balloon whisk, until mixture is smooth. Gradually add the remaining milk, whisking until smooth and combined.
Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat. Add the parmesan and stir until cheese melts. Taste and season with nutmeg, salt and white pepper.

A couple of hours before the meat sauce is ready, it’s time to think about pasta: make a dough with 1LB of white flour, four eggs and a good pinch of salt. Add 1 Tbsp water at a time, if needed. Work with the palm of your hand until it is elastic (a few mns). Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 mns to 1 hour minimum.  then use the rolling pin or a pasta machine to end up with thin, large, squares which if at all possible should be the size as the pan they’ll be ending up in a short while (this pasta shape is what we call lasagne, by the way). Let the pasta sit for a while, and bring some salted water to boil.
Get a bowl with cold water and bring it near the stove. Add a drizzle of oil to the boiling water, and poach no more than two lasagne at the same time, or they will horribly stick together no matter the oil. Let them cook for a little more than a minute, then throw the lasagne in the cold water bowl to stop them from overcooking.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush a rectangular 3L (12 cup) capacity ovenproof dish with oil to lightly grease. Spread one-quarter of the bechamel sauce over the base of the prepared dish. Arrange 1 lasagne sheet over the sauce. Top with one-third of the mince mixture and one-third of the remaining bechamel sauce. Continue layering with the remaining lasagne sheets, mince mixture and bechamel. Finish your pan with the two sauces and a very generous handful of parmesan which will melt and form a great crust. Some 30 minutes before you want to eat, turn the oven on to 350 F and whack everything in. Finish with some grill. Remove from oven and set aside for 10 minutes to set.
Serve with mixed salad leaves.

2 Comments

Filed under Recipes

About The Old Country Chef

I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
W. C. Fields

Old Country Catering is a Banquet Hall and a Catering service from Enfield CT. We own and operate the historic building of The Polish National Home of Enfield where we regularly cater Weddings and all kinds of parties. We also operate the Old Country Deli in Enfield and Pierogi Queen Bakery (TheOldCountryDeli.com). When I say we, I mean me.

I am the chef. Born and raised in Croatia (a small Mediterranean country between Italy and Austria), I have been cooking and eating (mostly eating and wine drinking) my way from Croatia, Italy, Poland, Spain and all the Western Europe, finally landing in 2008 in New England. I have worked as a cook, sales person, waiter, (a terrible) TV show host, marketing manager, hotel manager and now business owner and self appointed chef. And also, all this time, a published SF writer and blogger. But most of all, I am a family man. Married to a fantastic Polish girl, with two incredible daughters and a genius stepson.

This blog is a translation of the most popular blogs from my Croatian blog krivi.info with added new posts and some other things like recipes and reviews of the most popular New England restaurants (I am a gourmand and I have checked for you, with a critical eye of a chef, a glutton and a cynic, over a hundred restaurants in this area). This is a blog about life in New England from a perspective of a newcomer, about my work in the kitchen, about the interesting people I meet, about my kids, my dog, cat and the fish.

Unlike this introduction, I only write humorous, funny blogs. I do believe there is no other way to look at the world. Life is too dramatic to take it seriously.

Leave a comment

Filed under About