Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gobble, gobble, gobble.

Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time to breathe new life into my long-neglected blog. It is the holiday devoted to the art of feasting. A time for foods that serve little purpose beyond bringing maximum comfort with every forkful. Being Eastern European, the thanksgivings of my childhood included platters of proscuito, milky hand-made cheeses, homemade pastas with venison gravy alongside the turkey and cranberry. But as I've grown older, I've shifted my family's meal to incorporate more "thangiving-y" sides, and Thanksgiving has become my holiday. The one holiday where I can stretch my spatula and take over the kitchen.

I started my Thanksgiving traditions when I was about 13 with homemade cranberry sauce. It was a recipe I saw on Good Eats which called for three simple ingredients: Cranberries, Orange Marmalade, and Sugar. It was wonderful cooking the cranberries as they popped and released their gooey tart insides. The end result was chunky, tangy and sweet, a cranberry sauce far from the can shaped gelatin blob of my childhood. A few years later, I discovered the autumnal wonder of roasted butternut squash soup. Its like fall in a bowl, layering flavors of roasted squash, roasted garlic, sauteed apples and onions, and hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. It was from the soup, that Thanksgiving became mine.

I hope to chronicle this year's thanksgiving feast to share with you.

Today's Thanksgiving prep tasks include:
Roasting butternut squash, sweet potatoes, apples and a head of garlic for my Roasted butternut squash soup.
Baking cornbread for my sausage and cornbread stuffing with apples, figs and raisins.
Making two (at the request of my brother) apple crisp pies.
Trying my hand at low-fat baked apple donuts (a recipe from the Amy's Bread cookbook).
Making the Cranberry Sauce.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Turned away at the inn

Trying to find a dinner spot on a Friday night in the Lower East Side of Manhattan takes some navigation and persistence (often followed by desperation.) Our Friday night old faithful was spoiled by a new obnoxious northwest implant/hipster waiter and an unapologetic hostess, and so I spent the better half of Friday morning researching a new drinking hole that had just the right balance of a decent beer and liquor selection, outdoor space, good citysearch reviews and just a dash of seediness. We settled on Stanton Public-- they show movies on the brick wall in their teeny outdoor patio, play good music, have a free condom dispenser by their graffittied bathroom, and provide you with baskets of fresh popcorn as you knock back a few fancy-named beers. And the LES presents a perfect area for the kind of culinary wanderlust that settles in after a few happy hour beers.

We first tried our luck at Pulino's, a new high-end pizza place that's a-buzz in reviews, but the line to find out how long of a wait to be seated was too long of a wait for our grumbling bellies. Then we decided to try our luck at Lupa, one of Mario Batali's restaurants, with the sweetest hostesses who tried their best to accommodate us, but had could only give us a table if we promised to be out in an hour. We then trotted around the corner to Arturo's, another pizza place, the wait there was 30-40 minutes, we put our name in and decided to try our luck at one more spot. Dos Caminos SoHo, and again 45-50 minutes for their pricey margaritas and yummy guacamole. Turned away, and so we turned back to Arturo's where a good 15 minutes had probably passed since we gave them our names. We returned to find the small, angry hostess had already skipped us, but had not yet crossed us off the list. We decided to patiently wait our turn with a Peroni at the bar listening to the live Jazz band. We were shortly seated right at the door to the kitchen and next to the band. I was in love with the band, and the scent of tomato sauce and fresh baked crust floating from the kitchen. Soon our hungry tummies had ordered spaghetti with meatballs and a large fiesta pizza, and we were merry, and giddy and full.

We had shown our resilience through the long lines, grumpy hostesses, rumbling stomachs, and a broken flip flop. And we were well rewarded but good food and a lot of laughs.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

OJ, soda, purple stuff....

My fridge has never been stocked like the average American refrigerator. It was filled with things that would make little blond girls turn up their perfect pointed noses. We were always stocked in liverwurst (my pre-k sandwich of choice, really there's nothing better than creamy calves liver pate smothered on a crispy Portuguese roll -- I was a smart five year old.) Even if I were to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, smuckers was not something you would come by in my house. Instead we had a full supply of foreign jams Sipak (rose hip jelly), Lekvar (a very this plum jam, and Mjesena ("mixed fruit") which contained apples, plums and sour cherries. These jellies were thick, gritty and a little sour, they were the kind of jelly smuckers would be after it got beat up by some wild strawberries.

We also had jars and jars of all things pickled and preserved, red pepper, onions, tomatoes, pickles, eggplant. The insides of the jars goopy with solidified olive oil, like a science experiment gone terribly awry. There were times when I longed for the fridge in the Sunny d commercials: OJ, soda, purple stuff.... But it was because of this exposure that I wasn't afraid to try new things. I was primed never to be a culinary coward, and to start my day with a little fresh peanut butter and Mjesana on toast each morning.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A moveable feast

This past sunday my good friend Kristin and I made our first full french meal from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. The book is truly a plethora of culinary knowledge and has each dish explained down to the minute detail (except for some minorly confusing verbiage in the souffle recipe...which when it comes to making souffle, its probably not so minor) but all in all our bellies were well rewarded for our efforts.

We started our feast with cream of watercress soup, which had a lightness to it, but filled every ounce of the body with a creamy warmth. The trick it seems is whipping cream with egg yokes and then wisking it into the hot soup to acheive maximum thickness without feeling greasy or heavy.

Next was our heart attack in a fluted tart pan. The Quiche Lorraine. To add insult to injury we decided to add some swiss cheese to our quiche, which already contained bacon, cream and eggs and dots of butter on the top (and this is before we factor in the crust.) But the filling was light and airy and the top formed a thin almost creme brulee-like crust.

For our main course, we indulged in potatoes au gratin, coq au vin, and roasted asparagus. Potatoes au gratin may be the only dish that really makes me nervous across the board. Any time I've ever had them at a dinner they've been undercooked and inedible, but Julia, ever the brilliant culinary problem solve had this one down. You arrange your first lay of potatoes then cheese, salt pepper, butter (of course), then your second layer, then more cheese salt, pepper, butter, then you pour boiling milk into the terrine, place it on a hot stove and wait until the whole dish is simmering before you put it into the oven. Voila'! Perfectly tender potatoes au gratin, no slices of nearly raw potatoes mucking up your cheesy goodness.

Next was our main event, our coq au vin, which is basically rooster (or in our case chicken) stewed in wine. The coq au vin was more than I could have even imagined, the meat was tender and the sauce rich, earthy and complex. We used nearly a bottle of my father's home-made wine to drown our little chicken in along with a splash of bourbon and butter (there's always butter). It filled the kitchen with an almost sweet aroma, the kind of scent that welcomes you home and eases you in your chair after a hard day. It was a peasant dish, french style, sacrificing nothing for taste with the simplest of ingredients, some ingenuity, and little extra effort.

And when all this was consumed and we were happy with wine, we decided to take on one more task. The chocolate souffle. Not only is the souffle one of the more difficult French masterpieces to tackle, chocolate only makes things more difficult structurally for the souffle. In the process of combining the egg whites and the chocolate was where Kristin and had to overcome our first hurdle. Doubts and disappointment started to set in as we sadly poured our lumpy brown goop into the souffle pan. But 45 minutes later, like a miracle a perfect little souffle puffed up in our oven.

And after filling our bellies to the brim and releasing several well earned contented sighs, we decided on our next venture. Duck and cheese souffle.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


My father has the hands of a butcher. Strong and broad, his palm calloused from the grip of the knife, the rest of the skin softened from animal fat. Hands that are strategic and adept, like a surgeon with a sword, disassembling the pieces of meat that would fill the bellies of his customers. His hands sliced and broke bones, but also carefully and lovingly wrapped up each steak in brown butcher paper and placed it in the hands of each of his customers. He understood butchery as an art form, his carvings being sold off piece by piece bringing celebration and happiness to the table. When I think of my father's hands, strong and gentle, eager to do, to create as well as to cradle and comfort, it is clear to me how alike we are. I understand where that restlessness comes from that lingers inside of me, to do more, to be more passionate, to create more, to give more. My father's vast palms are abundantly giving and overflowing and I only hope to have half the pride for what I create that he does.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Words to the (counter clock)wise.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. I twirl my spaghetti the wrong way. Whenever my fork digs in to that heaping pile of pasta and tomato sauce, I can feel my mother's wandering eye gazing down at my counter clockwise twirling utensil. "Why don't you use a spoon," she suggests.

A spoon? A spoon just means one more obstacle between my lips and the linguine. I have no time for spoons, nor do I have time to relearn how to twirl in a clockwise fashion. At the very least, a spoon just means one more dish to wash, and there is no need.

My mother is the kind of person who always knows the "right" way of doing things. Perhaps it's because her father was a head chef, and thusly had to have a rigorous attitude towards the kitchen. She insisted on the proper way to cut an onion, mince garlic, slice tomatoes, stir a pot of polenta, and twirl spaghetti. I, on the other hand, had no such hang ups. I'm the type of person who takes an intuitive approach to the kitchen. I like feeling, tasting, smelling, experimenting. Not everything I try is a success, but I feel that sometimes if you draw outside of the lines a little, you might find a completely different picture.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Life happens.

The food writing class I had enrolled in has officially come to an end, and yet it oddly feels like the beginning. I feel like I've finally released the breath I've been holding for too long. Its interesting, to be a part of something with people that have such diverse backgrounds united by a common passion for food. For us foodies, food is not sustenance. Food is pleasure and heartache, indecision and endless opportunity. In food we trust. For me, I understood that food mattered from the very first moments I can remember. The kitchen was where life happened, sitting at the table watching the world swirl busily around me. I would sometimes get scraps of pasta dough to fold into little bow ties or rounds of cookie dough to make little thumbprints in. The kitchen was where we opened the first gifts on Christmas Eve after clearing off the seven fish dishes from the table, oohing and ahhing over the new toys and clothes, hugging and kissing in gratitude. It was where I practiced for spelling bees and twirled around until the cabinets kept spinning even when I stopped. In the kitchen my father and I practiced dancing for my sweet sixteen, both trying to hide our tears from the other. It was where I read my college acceptance letter aloud, my parents holding their breaths as I slit open the envelope. The kitchen was where my Nonno, brother, my little cousin Raffaella and I bridged generations, dusting each other with flour as we made gnocchi from scratch. It was where we all congregated during family the holidays, wanting to be close to the stove, to mince the garlic, zest the lemon, chop the herbs, longing to be a part of the meal.

The kitchen is where life happens, and for right now, looking forward at the kitchen I'll someday have, and the life that will fill it, helps me to know I'm just at the beginning.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


So after a long hiatus, its time to stop neglecting my beloved writing place. I think I was too ambitious trying to put a post every day, and that made it too easy to give up entirely. So, as I promised myself, before the end of this month, I would start writing again, here I am on March 31st. I've decided to restructure, I'm going to post at least twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, and to spice things up a little, experiment with video blogging once a month. We'll see how it goes.

Tonight, as I write, I find myself in front of the computer, mug of organic high fiber cereal with soy milk in hand, reminiscing of the days when cereal meant marshmallow pots of gold and Toucan Sam. When we were younger, my brother and I would go to my brother's godfather's house often. They had four children close in age to us and we would get ourselves into all kinds of trouble, but my strongest memory tied to cereal comes from their house. They had the jackpot when it came to cereal, cookie crisp, berry berry kix, rice crispy treats cereal, and every time it was just about time to head out, would cry starvation. We begged for cereal, we could not go on without a bowl of cereal. And we milked it for all it was worth -- pun intended.

But in reflection, cereal really is the simplest of pleasures. A bowl filled with ice cold milk and delicate sweet, crispy flakes. The satisfying crunch delivered by the spoonful. I have vivid memories of my 4 year old self having deep conversations with my rice crispies. The secrets of the world would be revealed if I payed enough attention. My rice crispies told me stories about pirates and princesses, they made me laugh, and never revealed my secrets. But now, on this early spring evening, my cereal says nothing, only that my digestive system will be grateful for the treat. Tony the Tiger is replaced by a quaint outdoor scene, and the colorful fruity pebbles are substituted with what looks more like rabbit food.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

The last two evenings I've spent concocting in my kitchen. Following my tummy and my nose for twists on comfort food, all the while trying too keep it on the fresh and healthy side. On Saturday night, after having watched Lidia Bastianich make a bolognese that could probably get me on a flight to bologna, I was craving pasta and meat sauce. And really, in life, few things satisfy quicker than a good meat sauce.

I started with frozen Kobe beef (is there any place else to start?) which is far too expensive to make in to sauce, but when you know the butcher, these things become inconsequential. In a sauce pan coated lightly with olive oil (if it were a Cartier beef you could skip the oil) and I lightly browned the meat, watching it sizzle and crumble. My nose then led me to the garlic, so I sliced some thinly and added it to the pan. Beef and garlic are a combination created by the gods, an aroma so powerful your salivary glands lose all restraint. Your tongue succumbs to the longing to taste, and you stomach cries out in hollow churns. I added some dived canned tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh bay leaves, peas, a dash of oregano, a pinch of dried parsely, salt and pepper and suddenly there was sauce. A sauce I couldn't stop eating straight from the pan.

I decided to go with medium size shells for pasta.

The sauce needed some that could embrace the bits id beef and peas, grasp it up in its arms and trap it inside. It was a perfect marriage, I had created deconstructed stuffed shells. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. That's how I feel every time I walk into the kitchen. I don't quit know where I'm going or what will happen at then end of the journey, but I always know how to get there.

My apologies for an abandoned post

Sorry to have cut the last post short, particularly at what some might say is the most important part. The dessert was an apple tart. Ever so slightly and delightfully sweetened. A sweet ending to a sweet evening.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The times they are a changing

The last few weeks have been full of big life decisions and somewhat scary changes. I've made the decision to go back to school in the fall, and frightening grown up thoughts like health insurance and bank accounts have been dominating my thoughts. I know no matter what it will all turn out ok, but for now it feels like I'm closing my eyes, holding me breath and taking a giant leap into a dark pool of water. I can't tell how deep it is or see the other side yet, but I know I'll make it through.

Last night, however, was not about work or money or loans. Last night was about three of my favorite things: friends, steak, and french fries. It's my favorite season to be in NYC, it's restaurant week. The brief period of time where dining in Manhattan doesn't create a deep feeling of loss in the wallet. Last night three of my friends and I spent a lovely evening at Steak Frites, indulging on a prix fixe special. To start I had a mushroom bisque, finished off with a drizzle of truffle oil. (since my experience with the truffle focaccia my palate has been craving the rich, muskiness.) It was comforting and earthy, full of cream I'm sure, but light and almost fright. It was the perfect starter to warm you from the soul outwards on a frigid evening. Then, for the main course I had the steak frites. Now I never order steak at a restaurant, mainly because my father's a butcher and anything he brings home is probably going to be better quality and perfectly cooked. However, this meat was perfection, and the fries crisp on the outside, light on the inside.

For dessert I will have to continue under separate post....to be continued!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A sight, a taste, a sound

The other night, wandering through the city, I came across a memory. It was an old, but strong one, that some how seemed to pop into my head quite often, but I could never quite place it. For a long while I thought maybe I had imagined the whole scene.

It was a restaurant, dimly lit, with red leather booths, worn with age. Atop each table was a checkered red and white cloth and a caddy for oil and balsamic. I can't ever quite place exactly how old I was, but I know I was happy, sublimely, simply happy. It was a dinner after some play or art gallery my uncle had taken me to, and we had met my aunt for dinner. It was perhaps before she was even my aunt. When she was just the beautiful woman my uncle was crazy for.

And we sat. We sat and ate in this big, chushy red booth, happily together. I can't recall what was said or even what was served. It was one of those instances where it didn't matter. My adoration growing for my aunt and uncle with every second. There they were, everything I could ever want to be. Living in Manhattan, being in love, eating good food -- and even not so good food. But still, living.

Perhaps the reason this memory has stayed so strong within me is to keep me on that path, the wide and winding one. And this happenstance, this stumblance upon the very restaurant I have visited so many times in my mind, was meant to slap me across the face, Christina, get to it already.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When there's nothing to write about

I've been going through a bit of a dry spell on the writing front. A lot has been happening personally and at work lately that have prevented me from putting together an entry I could be proud of. Nearly every night this past week I've stared at my empty blog space, my curser blinking accusedly at me. I started and stopped, started and stopped, all the while the words of my prose professor ringing in my ears "don't rewrite the beginning, until you get to the end." But I just didn't have a solid ground to stand on. This Thursday night, however, I had a life changing experience with a truffle focaccia. This was the kind of dish that inspires symphonies.

My cousin and I were sitting at the bar in the cozy wood and exposed brick room as we waited for a table when suddenly, the woodsy, rich scent of truffles tickled our noses. We turned to feast our eyes upon the most beautiful focaccia we had ever seen, and resolved to order it the second we sat down. When it finally arrived before us it was perfection in its purest form. The focaccio was set atop a long wooden cutting board, as though it had arrived directly from nonna's kitchen. The dough was light and airy, crisp on the bottom, everything focaccia should be. The top was covered in tangy cheese, perfectly balancing the rich, earthyness of the truffles and mushrooms. Finally, it was finished with9 a dash (or several dashes) of truffle oil glistening in the soft candle light.

I did not undestend the truly mystical power of food until this encounter. Truffle oil is currently on my grocery list.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Honey on a Plane

In the papers today was an article about several gatorade bottles filled with honey found in a man's suitcase that caused an uproar at an airport. The quote that really got me was the Sheriff's reaction "Why in this day and age would someone take a chance carrying honey in Gatorade bottles?"

Now, I happen to know WHY in this day and age someone would carry honey in Gatorade bottles. Because when you find someone who can give you real honey, honey that has not long been separated from its bees, you don't ask questions, you take it in whatever vessel it comes, and you hang on to it. I can almost guarantee that if he were allowed to take more than an eyedropper of liquid on the plane, he would have put those bottles in his carry on. If you've ever had real, fresh honey, you know exactly what I'm talking about. There is really nothing like it, the rich golden color, the pure, sweet, flowery taste that coats and soothes your entire body as it goes down.

Through the years, my grandmother in Europe has always sent chocolates, candies, cotton undershirts, and cards for our birthdays or Christmas, but now she knows better. Now she knows any time someone is coming back to New York from Vacation, to send them here with jars of honey for me. My love affair with real honey began when I was 15. My Nona Lina had a neighbor who kept bees. We first tasted it in her kitchen with little spoons, dunking them into the wide mouthed jar and trying to get as much of the golden honey onto the spoon as possible. We pulled out spoons out as it glistened in the sunlight that beamed through the small windows of her tiny apartment. It was such a different flavor, distinct, but delicate, untainted. I felt a camaraderie to the bees. Those little critters that I so furiously dreaded, who would sneak into my soda can at family picnics or make hives under our deck. They were now maestros of the comb, bringing pure happiness in thick, golden streams.

That summer, before the 9/11 tragedy, before Osama bin Laden, before the man on the plane with a bomb in his shoe, that summer when I turned 15, where I sat outside my uncle's house late at night, in the cool Adriatic air, and spoke to the stars. We packed up our bags and put the unmarked jars of honey in our backpacks and carried them on to the plane. I remember checking on the jars all throughout the flight. Making sure they were secure, unharmed.

I have some right now, sitting on my counter top, in an unlabeled jar. In its previous life, the jar was probably home to a plump stash of pickles or perhaps even roast red peppers in olive oil. Now, it sits in a bowl (those jars can get sticky) and every night I take a little honey, one spoon for my tea, and one for my tummy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Soup, soup, soup, soup

It seems as of late, my entries have mostly been about comfort food and soup, and finally what my subconscious was trying to tell me has materialized. I'm not feeling too peachy today. I'm not sure what I've got, but I've definitely got something. I bundled myself up, and trekked out to work this morning, only to almost faint on the bus. So after a few hours of vigorously emailing, I bundled myself up and trekked it back home. It seems like everyone I talk to seems to be getting over something. So in an effort to help all the sickly, here's a recipe for minestrone soup.

My mother made this soup yesterday in an effort to nurture us all back to health. You start by making the "odoro"

1 onion chopped
A few cloves of garlic chopped
a few tablespoons olive oil (to coat the bottom of the pot)

Coat the bottom of the soup pot in olive oil, then add the chopped onions and garlic. Sautee them until they're transparent and smell sweet. Do not let them brown. Fill the pot with water (be careful, water + hot oil = high potential for splatter). Then add any vegetables and beans you have lying around the fridge or pantry.
I like:
1 Bag frozen vegi medley (corn, carrots, string beans)
1 Bag frozen spinach
1 Can corn
1 Can chick peas
1 Can Kidney beans

You can really add anything else you have around! I hope you enjoy, please share any of your favorite comfort food recipes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The faraway isles

Sometimes on a lazy sunday afternoon all that is needed is a few hours, the isles of a supermarket, a grocery list, and cheesy 90's music playing over the speakers. I often find myself singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" aloud as I browse the selection of teas. When I'm grocery shopping I find myself in a completely relaxed state. Maybe its because I'm among good friends, Chiquita Banana, Aunt Jemima, Mr. Quaker Oats. My breaths fall deeper, my shoulders lose their tension, my head clears, and a for a few hours, I browse and fill my little cart. I'm a master mathematician, comparing prices, clipping coupons, checking carton sizes, seeing which sale ends up better ounce for ounce. While browsing the shelves, the possibilities are endless. I can head over to the produce and make sauteed spinach with caramelized onions. I can dash to the butcher counter and have juicy Kobe beef burgers. I can head down the baking isle and pick up oatmeal, cinnamon and raisins for some gooey cookies. There seem to be fewer and fewer areas of life where the future seems limitless, and strolling through the automatic sliding doors with an empty shopping cart gives the promise of boundless potential.

On today's particular outing, I ventured towards the deli counter for some turkey. The sound of the blade of a meat slicer, with its clean metallic roar always brings me back to my childhood. It reminds me of all the things I've learned when it comes to preparing food. I know that sandwiches don't come prepackaged and saran wrapped and tomato sauce is not manifested in glass jars. I know that these things can be made by my hands, and should be made by my hands. As I left, the supermarket, half a pound of thinly sliced Thumann's Turkey in tow, I knew that for lunch this week I had all I needed for a week's worth of delightful lunch creations.

Just so you all know, tomorrow I'll be having a turkey breast sandwich with brie, honey mustard and slices of apple. Reclaim the brown bag! If you'd like to try it, all you have to do is buy some turkey mean, some good bread (I like to use whole wheat rolls), honey, mustard, (or ready made honey mustard) and a green apple. (Making honey mustard is easier than you'd think, I like equal parts honey and mustard, but you can pretty much use any ratio you like, you just literally mix honey and mustard together, and that's it!)

So go forth, get to the supermarket, pack your brown bag, and start realizing the possibilities.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Beef soup for the soul

Happy 2010 to all! I hope you all are abided by superstition and ate your lentils and avoided anything that flies, for fear of fleeting fortunes in the new year. I'm hoping for a lot of change in life for the new year. 2010 has a lot to live up to, and how did I spend the first day of the new year? Making a 16 quart pot of beef broth. Beef broth, to me, is the mother of all comfort foods, a little more complex and hearty than chicken or vegetable. Its warm, and simple, and doesn't need chopped up carrots or even pasta, in my opinion. I strain it out and take it straight up. Its even better the next day after you let it cool and skim the filmy layer of fat off the top.

I thoroughly enjoy making simple broths. Its such a great way to use the cooking scraps you have lying around. On thanksgiving, I save little scrap of celery, carrot, onion, tomato and put them aside to boil the next day with the turkey bones. Turkey stock, is another great alternative to chicken, its definitely a more complex flavor. I always find it exciting though, to go through the freezer or refrigerator and find a celery heart, a few limp carrots, half of an onion, a piece of tomato, and a piece of meat, throw it into a pot, and a few hours later...voilĂ ! Liquid comfort. The only way to improve upon it, would be to get a nice piece of day old crusty bread, toast it and you'll have the perfect accompaniment to any soup you make.

I hope you all are starting the year off right with your comfort food of choice. I just need 2009 to be cooed away, like a lullaby for my tummy.