Sunday, December 21, 2008

Arthur Avenue Italian

Mother Nature has been giving us quite a whalloping lately. Fortunately, there was a break between storms which allowed me to take up an invitation to visit Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. This is where the Italian population moved to after they landed in Little Italy and were able to make enough money to get out of the tenements. I had been looking forward to making this trip very much, as I was hoping to get my hands on some fresh pasta and other specialties that I'd been missing since I lived in Italy, so I was glad that we could make it.

I was not disappointed at all. It was very much like being let loose in a candy-shop for an adult food lover. Brands and items that I hadn't seen since I lived overseas were available. The aroma of the bakery we stopped at brought me back to Europe with piles of bread on the shelves and fresh-baked goods on display. Of course, I could not resist picking up some of the soft almond cookies and the pine nut cookies to take to my family for the holidays on our visit to Madonia Brothers Bakery (2348 Arthur Avenue).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Magic Cookie Bars

You know those foods that come under the category of "things you ate at other people's houses"? Well, Magic Cookie Bars fall into that group, as well as the group of "things that I ate at potlucks" and "things that my mother didn't make." These might have been a bit too much of off-the-back-of-every-bag-and-box type of cookie for her.

It was great to see that the recipe is listed in's "Southern Food" category, being from that region myself. These fall into the domain of bar cookies, of which I am a big fan and with which I grew up: lemon bars, linzer bars, brownies, blondies, Rice Krispy treats, no-bake things, etc. They are quick and easy to make, transport well, and are usually a huge hit when served.

So, when I recently had these at an event back home, I realized that I should track down the recipe and add it to my collection. This co-incided nicely with the birthday party of one of my work colleagues and my annual holiday cookie baking bug. I think that they turned out looking pretty well:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tarte flambée

I was strolling through Apartment Therapy this past week, a favorite non-food blog, and decided to click through to their sister site The Kitchn, where they often post great recipes. What should open up on the first page, but something that just flooded me with memories of happy travels and much wonderful eating. It was a photo of a gorgeous Tarte Flambée.

Between living in Italy and getting settled in London, many years ago when I was living in Europe, I spent a few lovely weeks in Strasbourg, in Alsace-Lorraine. Although I knew of the mixed German-French history of the region, I didn't really understand how that contributed to its culinary culture. Fortunately, I had a few friends who guided me along the way. We'd meet in the town center and then head out to one restaurant or another eating local dishes like choucroute or other French regional specialties like crêpes.

With the weather having turned frigid here and the opening of the annual holiday markets in several locations around the city, the memories of the time I spent in that town were just reinforced for me. We would wander through the seasonal crafts fairs, looking at all the wares and picking up a freshly-made, loaded crêpe along with a cup of steaming hot orange and honey or glühwein to ward off the chill and to keep us fortified for some more shopping.

As the posting with the photo indicates, tarte flambée is simple, hearty and flavorful and just the perfect thing to tide one over until dinner after tackling a day of selecting gifts for the family. I'd forgotten how delicious it is and how perfect it is for cold winter afternoons. This is one recipe I need to try out and to add to my repertoire.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Potluck Standby

Tonight, I'm heading to a pre-Thanksgiving potluck. I offered to cook whatever was needed, except for providing the meat dishes, as those are not that easy to transport. Vegetable dishes were, what I was told, most in demand. So, I decided to pull an old favorite out of my recipe card file - Baked Couscous with Spinach and Pine Nuts - which came to me from a clipping in The Washington Post, but is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. (This year, in addition to reworking the recipes in my mother's card file, I also thought it would be good to tackle my own.)

My usual M.O. has generally been to opt for bringing dessert to these gatherings, as I have a no-fail, crowd-pleaser one that I save for the holidays (See last year's Thanksgiving post). I'm a little bit sad that I'm not making that this year, but I might save that pie for our family holiday get-together. One year, when I was working overseas and participated in an enormous potluck Turkey Day meal/party, a friend and I joined forces and made about four pies (two of the ones I made last year and two apple, if I remember correctly), and I managed to pull off preparing this same vegetarian dish as well.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tastes of Fall

Remember those apples I bought several weeks ago in order to make the tarte tatin? Well, it turns out that a quarter of a peck - see the bag above - goes a lot further than I realized it would. I made a second tarte - handily, sheets of puff pastry are sold in boxes of two - and still had some apples left. So, my brain turned to other options.

My feet and senses had come across the stand selling apple cider at the Greenmarket. That, and some leftover herbs from another cooking project, made me decide to try my hand at creating a dish which would bring together the best of fall's flavors and foods into something solid and comforting. The other aspect of this recipe is that this lets me showcase some of the flavors of my home state, Virginia, which has been much-talked about lately due to the upcoming Presidential election.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Not Apple Dumplings but the Movie

"My bank, my beautiful bank." It seems like more than a few people might have a need to say this phrase after this weekend, although not quite in the same context. Despite the hiatus I've been on from writing this blog, I'm still in banking (for the moment) and also still blogging. At first glance, food blogging and working in finance might not seem like a fit, but they can work together, much like the diverse cast of the movie from which the quote at the beginning of this piece is taken.

Remember when Sunday nights meant that extra hour of weekend tv - or maybe it was already budgeted from your daily two-hour allotment - so that you could watch The Wonderful World of Disney? This afternoon, I was taken back to that place with a showing of "The Apple Dumpling Gang" on TMC. It's amazing how many faces I recognized in the movie for their later (or earlier) work. Sadly, some of these folks are no longer with us.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why Can't it Look Like the Picture?

There is a reason this blog is called The Experimental Gourmand. I am not professionally trained, and I make mistakes, from which I try to learn. This week's recipe attempt definitely proved that again.

I tried the Fig and Almond Tart from July's issue of BBC's Olive magazine. Figs are now in season, so I could get the fresh produce that I needed, and the recipe looked simple enough to make. It would also give me a chance to test drive my new mini food processor. [I burned the motor out of the highest setting on my previous one and managed to crack the bowl as well.] Here is a photo of what it should have looked like.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Crabfest 2008

More than Christmas, more than Thanksgiving, heck, probably even more than my own birthday (unless you could find a way to make a giant cake of its meat for me), there is no occasion to which I anticipate more each year than our annual family Crabfest. I've been offline the past week or so, because I was away stuffing my face at a variety of family gatherings. It was wonderful, as usual, to see everyone and to have a chance to eat some things that are not normally a part of my daily diet.

That's the thing about getting together each year to pick crabs and to indulge in lovely hunks of white tender-sweet meat. It's not just about the eating (although that is important). It is also about the following of a family tradition and about adhering to the pattern of the season. There's certain rules: the 'right' potato salad to have at this time of year, making family-favorite sweet treats, and, of course, discussion about everyone's own preferred methodology for extract crab from its shell.

This year, we had some new inductees into the annual family event with a few nieces who had not participated previously. One of them embraced the eating (fun) part of the crabfest, but not the cleaning (work) part. At her age, we had my youngest sister at the table cleaning out our claws for the meat, something she still thinks of as highly unfair, even to this day. Her new beau, however, who was another addition this year, confidently held his own and will surely have a place at the table again next year. He's an 'accumulator' rather than an 'eat as you go' type, which might upset the balance in the group.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cherries, Oh Baby

For the past few weeks, I've been hooked on cherries. They've just been too good to ignore. Ruby-red orbs glistening in the hot summer sun streaming down at the market. So, I've caved in and bought a couple of batches of them and combed through my cookbooks and recipe collection for just the right purpose to which to put this seasonal delicacy.

The first set that I bought were the eating kind, sweet and juicy. I bought a cherry pitter, which initially proved a bit of a challenge to try to use. Hands gloved so as not to stain my fingers blood red, I managed to get the tricky thing to work and removed the stones from about half of the cherries. I was also successful in getting cherry juice on my sweatpants, the t-shirt I was wearing, my living room floor, and on my body.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pizza Lust

It's been a bit of a trying weekend in the city. Bus delays, subway re-routing and two freak thunderstorms have been just a few of the more dramatic aspects of my attempting to get my errands done on the couple of days that I have as a respite from my hectic work week. Sometimes, though, Serendipity (not the sweets shop) takes things by the hand and we just have to roll with it.

For weeks, ok, a few months now, I've been reading the ravings about a pizza place down in the East Village. Normally, I'm not one to go all ga-ga over the new hottest place, especially when the words "standing on line" are involved. Yesterday, fate took things in her own hand to conspire that I should try this place, at least once.

The bus delays and longer-than-should-have-been-wait in the sweltering summer sunshine meant that by the time the M15 Limited lunged and lurched its way down 2nd Avenue towards 14th Street - my end destination - I could start to hear the slow grumbling of my stomach. The breakfast toast with peanut butter and my usual extra-strength cappuccino would not keep me going much longer. Then, it occurred to me. I'd, in fact, gotten on the wrong bus. Well, not exactly the wrong bus, but one that had taken me further east than I'd meant to go.

What had happened instead was that I'd ended up at a stop not far from Artichoke. I had been a bit peeved at myself once I realized that I should have taken a bus two avenues over from where the bus that I was on, but then I realized a misstep could be turned into good fortune. As I'd mentioned previously, it was hot, I was at that point before being hungry turns into being cranky, and, well, I was in the neighborhood after all so I decided to give it a try.

The line turned out not to be all that bad. There were about 4 or 5 people in front of me. (I wish the line at Shake Shack would be that short whenever I craved one of their burgers.) Like most NYC pizzerias, you order your slice, pay and wait for your order to be reheated. Slice NY has pictures of the options here. I selected their specialty, the spinach and artichoke. The guy on line in front of me said that that was a good choice.

Then, you know how it is in a restaurant, you've ordered, but then you see all the food on other people's plates and wondered if you made the right choice. We were standing there, waiting on our pizza, and then started gazing at the margarita and the sicilian slices there in the cases in front of us. Red and white blobs with slashes of green basil leaves baked on top. The char of the crust just visible from our vantage points. I could just feel the tang of the tomato sauce as I bit into the crunch of the dough.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reds and Greens

For those of you who've been reading this column over the course of its brief life, you know how much of a fan I am of the Union Square Greenmarket - and of the NYC Greenmarkets in general. After having lived in Italy for several years, I really came to appreciate the seasonality of food. When I returned to the States many years ago, after my time in Europe, I knew that I just couldn't go back to the way I ate before I'd left.

Although sometimes it can be difficult, I still try to keep my food intake in line with the seasons. I also try in this blog to stick to recipes where the ingredients are reflective of the time of year. Not being an expert in food production, it can be a minefield just trying to sift through all the information behind what we should be eating when in order to get the most nutritional benefits out of our diets. I know that I definitely am not perfect in this regard.

The tomato-salmonella scare of this year, along with the spinach one of a couple of years ago, about which I'd also blogged, just reinforce some of the other news that we've been hearing in the food press. Food miles, carbon footprints, knowing the source of your ingredients: those are components of the things we're asked to consider these days when shopping for our weekly meals. If you haven't managed to pick up The United States of Arugula, I highly recommend it. It brings up some of the issues behind our current food policy dilemmas.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Alas, not for crabs...

This year, it is unlikely that we'll get together to do the family crab feast, at least from what I've been told so far. Part of the reason for this is that the crab stock in the Chesapeake Bay is dwindling and so crabs have gotten more expensive and are smaller. One solution, the press has noted is to let the Bay rest for a year so that the crabs can come back. I'd gladly hold off for a summer, if it meant I could have some to eat the next year.

This raises the question, though: How to get one's Old Bay fix? Just opening the can brings back memories of crabfeasts past and boiled shrimp cooked in these spices. The smell is like a great sailing day on the Chesapeake Bay with the cool wind mingling with the salty water on one's face. It just smells like my old summer camp - with the added bonus of there being no jellyfish around.

When going through my mother's recipe file a few years ago, I discovered this dish. It came about long after I'd moved out of my parent's home, but it seemed to be come a new favorite. It wouldn't have made it to the card file if no one had enjoyed it. I wish I could have found the author of it, but the Internet couldn't turn up the source.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Spinach Salad

Before you turn up your nose or click away from this post, I ask you to at least consider trying a freshly-made spinach salad. This is still from the series of recipes from the family card file that I'm testing once again. Like usual, I've made some minor tweaks to it but really nothing drastic.

Like you, I was turned off from this vitamin-packed leafy green as a child. Poorly cooked, drained of all flavor, and lifeless, it was really not one of my favorite vegetables. I'm not sure that you could have paid me to eat this when I was growing up, and I remember it appearing only a couple of times at the dinner table. Now I realize that crisp, bright green, seasonal leaves make all the difference in this salad.

The Greenmarket did not fail to deliver when I was shopping there today, looking for something wonderful to pair with my leftover flank steak. Just see how amazingly fresh and full of life these leaves look. A few strips of meat alongside the lightly dressed spinach topped with toasted walnut pieces and a glass of red wine and I'm in iron-packed, anti-oxident heaven!

Spinach Salad*

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Servings: 4-5 adults

4 cups loosely-packed and thoroughly cleaned spinach leaves (baby are best)
1/2 cup walnut pieces, dry toasted and cooled
2 Tbsp good white wine vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
1 Tbsp dijon mustard (not grainy mustard)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place walnuts in a non-stick pan on low heat or on a baking tray in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven. Let roast for about 5-10 minutes until lightly browned but not burned.

While the walnuts are roasting, prep the spinach leaves. Rinse completely, possibly several times, to remove all traces of dirt and grit. Trim off the woody ends (if using larger leaves). Run through a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels and put into a serving bowl. Check the walnuts to see if they are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

Stir together the white wine vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until the dressing is fully combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad. Top with the walnuts, and toss everything together until it is fully incorporated.

*There are two things to add to this recipe. One is that my mother makes a version that omits the walnuts and, instead, takes sliced mushrooms, adds them to the dressing, lets them sit for about 30 minutes or so, and then pours everything over the spinach leaves. Why she didn't then also add bacon to it is one of life's culinary mysteries. This would make a good steakhouse type salad.

The other addition is an attribution. My mother thinks that this recipe actually came from one of Julia Child's newspaper columns. She's going to do some research for me on this, as I couldn't come up with anything online by way of substantiation. Aside from the tweaks I made about toasting the walnuts, which I think bring a heartier flavor to the salad, I am not going to claim that this is my own creation, rather it is something that found its way into our family card file, and I've decided needs to be kept in mine as well.

Buon appetito!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Number 100

I know that the blog has been a bit dormant lately. It's been a combination of a few things: some family stuff, some other personal things, and the usual time constraints. There's been the added wrinkle of massive amounts of stress, chaos and confusion at work as well, given that I'm still working in banking, which have sort of sucked away my creative energy. The situation with layoffs is as awful as it sounds in the press. New York is a company town in a lot of ways, and our industry drives lots of others as well, which makes it even more difficult when things start to turn downward.

The other thing I realized was that this is my #100 post! Wow. I'd wanted to do something spectacular, but it's a bit difficult to make fireworks come out of the computer when you load the page. So, I combined the holiday weekend, a bit of fiddling around with the blog layout and look (not as much as I would like to do, but I'm not at all a technogeek), and another recipe from the card file. This is for a flank steak marinade, the origins of which are uncertain.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise Sauce, like Bearnaise and Mayonnaise, is part of the emulsion family of sauces that really should be taught in high school chemistry for their amazing combining effects and delicate nature. Even though my attempts at Mayonnaise failed a couple of years ago, and I've never tried to do it again, Hollandaise is one of those things that I was able to make on the first go. Don't ask me why, as the principles are basically the same.

This velvety, slightly tangy sauce is perfect over vegetables, like now-in-season asparagus, and lovely over poached eggs for an indulgent Sunday brunch (New York Times optional). Below, I've listed several tips that can help lead you to success in preparing this sauce. It's not fool-proof, but once you've made this from scratch, you'll never use pre-made versions again. Once you understand the tricks to it, it goes very quickly and you can adjust to avoid culinary disaster and scrambled mess (much the same as with making a custard sauce).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Inside-Out Cheeseburgers

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been a little bit sidetracked from posting. I'd traveled over Easter weekend and had picked up a couple of food magazines that I don't normally buy. Then, it seemed like my regular culinary reading pile just seemed to grow of its own volition. It got a bit overwhelming so I decided to plow through all of it.

This sort of took me off of my previously-stated goal of recreating the recipes with which I grew up, and also highlighted an interesting dilemma for me. There's so much new stuff and different recipes out there it's some times hard to stay on focus. One of Epicurious' bloggers pointed out this week that, for most people, there seems to be a "rotation" of meals on a regular basis. With this reliance on the quick, simple and familiar, it does get a bit daunting to try to slot in something a bit more daring.

But, this week, I decided to return to the recipe card file once again. I picked something that was on the Epicurious blogger's proposed list for the American family meals merry-go-round, but that has a little twist. This recipe was on a pre-printed card that came with the box and was one that I learned to make when I was still a pre-teen. It's simple and the gooey insides make for a great surprise for those who aren't expecting it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Touring One's City

Yesterday, I took a walking tour of the Meatpacking District and Chelsea Market through Foods of New York. It might seem strange to take a tour of district in the city in which I live, but guides can often get access to some additional areas that aren't open to just anyone. Several weeks ago, I'd been on a pub crawl/history tour of some of Wall Street's most famous drinking establishments. Best of all with some of the food tours is that they are also eating tours as well, with the price of the samples included in the fee.

I'd written about the market last year, but it seems as though my photos have gone AWOL from that post so I thought I'd share what we saw yesterday on our jaunt through the market. We met at the Chelsea Wine Vault:

Our first stop was at a display window where we got to hear a history of the building. This was the old Nabisco Biscuit Factory. More importantly, it was where the Oreo was invented. Did you know that Nabisco was the first company (according to our tour guide) to wrap its cardboard cracker boxes in plastic wrap so that they would not get wet when it rains?

Then, we stopped at our first store for a sample of its wares: Eleni's. I would show you a sample of their everything cookie, but I ate it and the extras with which we left. The combination of oats, coconut, semi-sweet chocolate, walnuts, and dried cranberries was just too much to resist. Eleni's is also known for its gorgeously decorated cookies, photos of which you can see on their website.

To help us wash it down, we stopped off at Ronnybrook Farm's store in the market. Rich, thick, creamy chocolate milk was just the ticket to wash down the last of the cookie. Along the way, we took a peek at the prep windows for Amy's Bread, where you can see the loaves being prepped and proved.

Then, we stopped off at The Lobster Place.

We were able to get an inside peek at just what these beauties look like, well before they become the lobster bisque that we were able to sample. The lobsters that come in to this shop are sold to some of the top restaurants in the city, we were told.

One of the architectural features pointed out to us on our way to the next stop was the transom windows at the top. When steam trains used to come into the factory, the windows were the way to release all the heat and moisture. The levers that controlled these openings, reminded me a little bit of the ones that opened and closed the really high windows that were in my high school gym.

The waterfall in the center of the market helps to mute some of the noise from the foot traffic and to create a calming atmosphere.

The next stop on our tour is one of my favorite shops in the entire market: Buon Italia.

Aside from all the great things to buy there - olive oils, cheeses, cured meats, and lots of other wonderful items from Italy - the best part was that we got to taste some of these goodies. With the help of some whole wheat bread from Amy's Bread, we sampled marinated olives, smoked mozzarella, mortadella, salami, artichoke spread, and pickled mini onions.

After a brief stop to look at the Manhattan Fruit and Vegetable Exchange, where there were lots of oohs and ahhs over all the fresh produce, we got to visit Sarabeth's Bakery. There we were treated to samples of her homemade biscuits and fruit spread.

We paid a visit to Chelsea Market Baskets and looked at all the foods and chocolates that they can put together for gifts. Then, we stopped off at the T-Salon, where I discovered they have a little cafe in the back. The blossoming teas that they laid out to show us were almost too pretty to drink.

Amazingly, after all of that, we managed just enough room leftover to sample some gelato from L'Arte del Gelato.

Then, after all the eating, we did some walking around. We looked at the outside of the factory and saw the High Line, the rail line that ran into the warehouse buildings and which delivered goods into the factories and manufacturing plants. This is now destined to be come an elevated park running the length of the old train tracks. This is a piece of New York's industrial history that will be preserved and recycled into a more modern use.

This is the first time I've taken a tour with this particular group. I think that it won't be my last. I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to check out an area of the city which has great eats - and maybe drinks.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cheese Ravioli

When I weeded out my cookbook collection last year, I was pretty vigilant. I took an especially critical look at my Italian collection, as I had quite a few volumes about this cuisine. In doing some research on the last of the series of Lent-friendly family recipes, I combed through several of them, but this one was where I found the recipe for which I was looking - classic Cheese Ravioli.

Again, this was not one of the favorites of the siblings with whom I did a straw poll. Bland, was one word that was used. Heavy, was another. Having eaten plenty of ravioli, tortelloni and other cheese-filled pastas in Italy proper, I can attest to the fact that they can be culinary wonders, luscious and comforting, if prepared properly. This is completely the opposite of any pasta that ever came out of a can when we were growing up, not that we ate that in my house, that was only available at other people's houses. In re-reading this book, I was drawn into the poetry and passion of the author for his subject, and I completely share his conviction that handmade pasta can be simple and ethereal.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Let’s face it, there are just those times when it is easier to order in than to cook. As much as I love cooking, sometimes it is just too much of a stretch after pulling a 10+ hour day to try to figure out what meal to make for dinner. Pizza is easy. Pizza is relatively cheap. The fact that there is a pizza place on the corner near where I live just makes it even easier not to bother to fix anything myself and to grab a quick slice on the way home from the office.

For Lent, pizza is optimal because it can be a meal without meat. It is also simply something that pleases almost any appetite at any age. There’s probably a reason why it was on the rotation of elementary school lunches. Remember those squares of industrially produced pizza facsimiles? They came in two flavors: sausage and cheese. I still think I can remember how they tasted, and I would always want to buy my lunch on the days that it was on the menu.

Now I know better that no self-respecting pizza would taste like that, but at the time, it was quite exotic. Then, there was the place in town where we would go for the party at the end of soccer season. You could stand on a chair and watch them actually making the pizza. It wasn’t so much in the eating, but in being able to view its construction that was the real treat. Somehow, it always seemed to taste better, knowing that you were able to take in every detail of its construction: the flipping of the dough, the shaping of it on top of cornmeal, the swirl of tomato sauce, the sprinkling of the shredded cheese, and the dotting of the toppings.

When my mother would go away for the weekend, we would beg my father to let us order pizza. The alternative, when we were younger and did not cook for ourselves, was to let him concoct something, usually created from the leftovers in the refrigerator. Those meals were never a hit. Good thing, then, that after a few years, we were able to bring him around to our way of thinking and pizza became the go-to option when Mom was away.

Making my own pizza is something that I have never managed to get around to tackling. [I am, of course, leaving out the whole category of pizza varieties made with pre-made dough, English muffins, and pita bread as bases.] On this year’s list of things to do, that is definitely one of them. I’ve collected several recipes, but which one is actually worth trying? While I contemplate this, I think I’ll just enjoy a slice bought from my corner pizzeria, ample, cheesy-tomatoey, with a thin film of extra grease, just the way a New York slice should be. Here is a sample, in all its glory:

Buon appetito!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Truffled Potato Galettes

This year is a special one. The United Nations has dubbed 2008 the International Year of the Potato. En français, c'est l'Année Internationale de la Pomme de Terre. Sounds a bit more fancy that way, doesn't it? The idea is to draw attention to a food that is nutritious, flexible and integral to many cultures.

In an attempt to interact more with other food sites in the blogsphere, this year I had decided to participate more in blog roundups hosted by Is My Blog Burning. Eating Leeds is hosting one this month related to aforementioned tuber. The great thing about the recipe I chose for this, is that it let me take something that I hadn't made in a while and rework it completely into something a bit more elegant and suitable for a nice dinner à deux.

I did use the typical (for the U.S.) Yukon Gold potato as my base, which I really love for cooking. I know that Eating Leeds had wanted us to try to use a variety with which we normally don't cook, but that would make it probably too difficult for most of you to try. Having to locate truffle oil for this dish might be enough of a challenge. I had bought a bottle during my trip to Italy last year and was just looking for a good excuse to tap into my supply.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Flounder Florentine

When I chatted with a few of my siblings about the theme for the blog for these few weeks, a couple of them asked if I was going to add this dish to my list. Now that I've tried it again, I called around to find out their reactions to it to see if they matched my own. "Because it is disgusting," was one sibling's reaction as to the level of her distaste. Another one assured me that she had liked it when we were growing up, but agreed with me that it could use a little bit of work.

Again, I have no idea where this recipe came from originally. My mother said that it was published in a woman's magazine. When I tried to research it on Google, I got many versions of this dish, each slightly different from what I have written down on my notecard. I have to confess that I'd not actually made this, ever, but had pulled it as one of those fish/Lenten dishes that sounded like a good thing to have my repertoire.

In going through all the ingredients, it did seem a little bit bland-sounding to me. While waiting for the fish to cook, I was just wishing for an idea of how to jazz it up a bit more, flavor-wise. I'd planned to serve it alongside some boiled, small red potatoes. Then, it hit me - I needed to sauté the potatoes in olive oil and garlic to give the entire meal a bit more of an interesting kick. Sure enough, that did it.

This dish is very easy to cut in half which makes it a lovely (with the garlic potatoes and a glass of white wine) meal for mommy and daddy to have while the kids get to enjoy fishsticks and tater tots, which is really what they wanted for dinner anyway instead of something "disgusting" with spinach in it. Maybe it was just a bit too sophisticated for my sister's childhood palate. This is the child who, after all, survived for at least a year on hotdogs, applesauce and cottage cheese for dinner.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tuna Tettrazini

I didn't put this recipe up in time for this past Friday, the first Friday of Lent, because, like usual, it always takes me about a week to get myself in gear for this season. It's always a challenge to remember that I'm not supposed to eat meat the first week or that I was supposed to have given something up for the next month and a half.

My brain still hasn't activated the "You are banned from eating meat today" voice until at least the second week. In good years, this happens prior to my eating a chicken sandwich for lunch. In not-so-good years, I'll have already had bacon for breakfast before it occurs to me that I shouldn't have eaten it. This year, I felt pretty good about being on top of it, even having my first tuna melt on Ash Wednesday. Good thing that this is only once a year.

So, after the first Friday of pizza for dinner or fish sticks and tater tots (mmm, remember those from school lunches), it's time to dust off the tuna recipes. Tuna Tetrazzini was among the first of the dishes that I was put in charge of making. It was usually served with "salad" (aka iceburg lettuce with bottled Italian dressing). To be a bit more grown up, I opted for having my recipe for Freshly-Shelled Peas with Sautéed Shallots as the side dish.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Gettin' Ready for Fat Tuesday

As we were all reminded at Mass this morning, Lent is quite literally around the corner. This year, we have Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone eats and drinks lots of not-so-healthy game day snacks, back to back with Ash Wednesday, the start of the holiest season of the Catholic calendar and one that means fasting, abstinence and reflection. Fortunately, we have Mardi Gras in the middle to help us get from one to the other.

Jotted down in pen in the blank pages of a much-used cookbook that I found in my parents' house, is the recipe I decided to try this weekend: Shrimp Remoulade. If you do an on-line search for this recipe, you'll find as many variations on the theme as there are Cajuns in Louisiana (one of the places of origin of this dish). The version I copied down from the recipe file was an oil-based emulsion. Other remoulades (like those made with celery root) call for mayonnaise as the dressing base instead. This is the perfect, lightly spicy dish that, along with a small side of boiled white rice, would be a wonderful starter for any Fat Tuesday party that you might be having.

I'm keeping my post super short this weekend as the big game is getting ready to start. I've got to support the boys in blue of my adopted hometown. Let's hope they pull it off, otherwise, it will be kind of miserable in the office tomorrow, with everyone armchair-quarterbacking the loss.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Now I’m stuck with the leftovers

In testing out the meatball recipe last week, I’d sort of forgotten that it makes quite a few, even when not almost-doubled to feed a family of eight plus any random cousins or friends who show up for dinner. So, I was left with quite a few extra, despite the fact that I’d packed up spaghetti and meatballs to take for lunch all last week. This left me with a few choices: I could freeze them for later or try to finish eating all of them.

It isn’t really such a chore to figure out what to do with these as they are so versatile. They can be broken into pieces, mixed with cooked pasta, folded with some ricotta, dusted with grated or thinly sliced, fresh mozzarella, and baked in the oven for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 4) to make a hearty main dish for a cold night. Or, just heat up some meatballs and sauce in the oven and melt a slice of Provolone on top. Toss together a pile of fresh greens with olive oil and vinegar and round out with some crusty bread and a glass of red wine.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

On Top of Spaghetti…

When I checked in on Is My Blog Burning to see what upcoming blog roundups were happening, one caught my eye in particular. Serge the Concierge is hosting one asking for meatball recipes. This gave me the perfect excuse to dig out another recipe from my index card file.

Again, the handwriting on this card indicates that I probably copied it down to take it to college with me. It came from a copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook that is my mother’s. I loved to look at this cookbook when I was a child, leafing through its pages and looking at all the photos of the platters of food. The drawings are a little dated and sort of "Father Knows Best" or "Pleasantville," but the sentiment of the warmth of home-cooked food eaten as a family still remains - with the lady of the house preparing it, of course.

The recipe on the card is slightly different from that in the cookbook. My mom had made adjustments to spread this out for a large family. She also eliminated the hamburger/pork combination and just used hamburger. The recipe amounts weren’t quite doubled. After testing the cookbook version this past weekend, I actually think that my mom’s proportions are better and tastier.

For the sauce, I also made some changes. I’m not sure about you, but I wasn’t going to spend the time sieving two large cans of tomatoes (per the original instructions) when I can get my hands on great Italian-style passata di pomodoro (make sure no sugar is added). I did use tomato paste and also added a can of finely chopped tomatoes as well. In the hour-long cooking time for the sauce, these will mostly break down and will add a great texture to the sauce. Up here, this is referred to as “gravy.”

This is still a great dish to have on hand and the leftovers are fantastic. Making meatballs is a great activity to get your children, uhem, more “involved” with their food. Have them help out making them. In my family there was also the One Giant Meatball that was made from the last of the meat. Put that on a pile of spaghetti with a little gravy, dust with some freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, and let the kids belt out “On Top of Spaghetti” at the top of their lungs (clean version of course)!

Kitchen Witch Tip

My mother always made meatballs for this dish by putting them into disposable broiler trays and cooking them in the oven. I’ve followed this tip many times with several meatball recipes that call for frying them first and then adding them to the sauce. This has a few advantages. The original recipe for this calls for frying the meatballs in oil. Why add all that extra fat?

Cooked in the trays, the fat in the meat itself helps the meatballs to cook and stay moist, all while keeping their shape. It also is easier to clean those pans instead of scraping lots of bits of meat off of a skillet. You may need to turn them each once for more even browning, but that isn’t a requirement as they’ll all just get put into the sauce anyway to finish cooking. Adding the accumulated juices from the cooking pans is optional, as that will also add extra fat to the sauce, but it does have great flavor.

Buon appetito!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chicken and Broccoli aka Chicken Divan

Growing up in my family, the children generally ate our meals separately from our parents, partially because there were so many of us. This meant that they could have food that was more sophisticated than what we were usually fed on a daily basis. Thus, the repertoire for our dinners was somewhat limited.

Our vegetables at dinner usually followed a cycle of peas, green beans and corn, depending upon the main dish. All of these were canned; we weren’t a frozen vegetable family. Occasionally, we had “salad.” This was usually iceberg lettuce, perhaps with sliced carrots, tomatoes, and celery, all covered in bottled Italian or blue cheese dressing. Mesclun, lightly sprinkled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, was nowhere near this picture, not in 1970s suburban Washington, DC. The first time cucumbers and scallions made an appearance in our household, I thought those were exotic additions to our meals.

As I got older, my parents experimented with feeding us broccoli or asparagus with our meals. These were usually dressed with sauce and had previously been canned. They bore no relation to fresh, bright green veggies that I now prefer, being the same olive-grey color as the canned peas and green beans we also ate. Is it any wonder that I avoided this food category? (School lunches were no help either in this regard. I think I’ve blocked out most memories of being served anything remotely associated with vegetables during that time.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Change of Direction, sort of

Remember the recipe card file box that I mentioned a while back? When my brother and his girlfriend got married a few years ago, I created a book of family favorites plus threw in a few of my own from my own little recipe notebook (which, for the record, is one of the things I’d grab – after my handbag and passport – if my apartment caught fire). I’m not sure if they’ve ever referred to it, but I do remember it generating some laughter and comments as it invoked memories of meals past.

For the past two years, as faithful readers of this blog will know, I’ve been trying to cover various topics relating to food & eating, food & culture, food & travel, food & New York City, and just food in general. It’s been great to share these thoughts with everyone and to hear feedback on my recipes. I think I’ve learned more about my food philosophy as well as about how passionate and consistent my interest in the culinary realm has been throughout my life.

This year, I’ve decided to try to tackle a project that has been mulling around for me for a little bit. This will also change the course of the blog over the next twelve months. I have decided that it is time to take the recipes that I pulled from the card file and ones that I'd pulled for that cookbook that I did for my brother and his wife, combine them with some of my own favorites, and create my own treasure trove of tried and true, personally tested recipes.

We don't have a long family history of recipe sharing, unfortunately, but there are definitely some culinary gems that are hidden in scraps of paper and on much-stained index cards. My goal this year is to pull the ones that invoke memories, are family classics or just ones that are good to have on hand and to adapt them for current-day usage with photos to accompany them. I will be using this blog to tell the story of this journey and hope that you will join me along the way.

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Some New Resolutions

With the start of the new year, it is time to go through last year's resolutions and see how I managed to do. Then, I need to figure out what sounds like good projects to start for this year. It's a nice sort of "house cleaning" project, even if I never really do make it through all of them.

Here's how last year went on a scale of 1 to 10 of achieving my goals:

1. Keep a closer watch on those “things in the back of the fridge” so that fewer foods go bad before their expiry dates and turn into missing science experiments
Result - 7. Yep, managed to do that. Of course a few folks who came to visit said that it was surprising how little food I keep in my fridge for how much I love to cook.

2. Make those recipes that I’ve been pulling from magazines and sort through the ever-growing pile of interesting ideas
Result - 5. So-so. What I did end up doing was not to pull as many recipes from magazines as I had in the past and to cull the ones that I had that were duplicates.

3. Check spices for freshness – don’t end up with anything in the cabinet that looks like old
Result - 8. I made it a mission to use up spices that I had had on hand for a while which also meant that I was able to tackle goal #2, as I then had to look for new recipes in which to use them.

4. Go through my cookbooks and use more recipes from them (and donate or get rid of the ones I will never use)
Result - 7. I got my cookbooks (and other books) out of storage this past year and just cleared them out. What I kept were the classics and some favorites that have given me some reliable recipes. The rest, I sold to a second-hand book store and ended up with some extra cash.

5. Learn new culinary techniques – broaden my skills set
Result - 2. I'm not sure that I really ended up learning anything new, but I did work on my crêpes-making for a post in August in honor of Julia Child's birthday.

6. Try more restaurants to which I’ve never been and revisit ones I haven’t been to in a while
Result - 4. Again, a bit of a mixed bag here. I did make it to some new places and to a few extra street fairs, but I didn't make it back to some of the places that I'd been to years ago to see how they are doing.

7. Visit some of the other great food markets in the city – Essex Street, Arthur Avenue, Jackson Heights, etc.
Result - 0. No excuse here. Laziness, lack of motivation. I do need to manage to make it to these at some point.

8. Work on my food photography skills
Result - 5. I have managed to figure some things out and have tried to take better photos, but I still feel like I need to work on a few other things.

9. Blog more and have fewer gaps in posting
Result - 6. I did post more in 2007 than in 2006 but there were some times that I just couldn't get there. It didn't help when the cable service was accidentally cut off either.

10. Attempt to make mayonnaise again!
Result - 0. Maybe this is another one for the books for 2008!

Here's my look ahead at what's in store for this new year:

1. Eat more whole grains - try to find some great new recipes using these
2. Snack better and try not to cave into the 3:30 p.m. sugar craving to head for the closest snack machine (it's 4 floors away from where I sit)
3. Practice portion control - don't let the lunchtime blood sugar slump take over and drive me to heap my cafeteria tray with lots of calorie-laden, starchy food
4. Throw out duplicate recipes - test to find out the definitive version to keep for my files
5. Keep recipe pulling from magazines under control
6. Start a book of Family Favorites recipes to share with my siblings - test and update them
7. Make a binder of my own favorite "Keeper" recipes, with photos
8. Take cooking courses to improve my skills and knowledge
9. Cook more dishes from the books that I already have
10. And, most of all....I will not be jealous of the guy in my office who got Bacon of the Month as a present for Christmas!

Buon appetito!

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