Category Archives: cook

Jan 30 -31: Weekend Wrapup

Friday evening:


Drinks and Dinner at Chow Bar with my husband – started with a saketini and finished with a romantic toast of sake. I had tuna carpaccio and vegetables while he had calamari and steak – both of us left very happy and content.

We then headed over to Bowlmor Lanes on University and 13th Street to meet our friends for a friendly game of bowling. I, unfortunately, didn’t help my husband at all with our score – I like to blame it on a-a-a-a-al-co-hol and the fact that the only ball that fit my fingers weighed about 50 pounds! I nearly threw myself down the lane every time…

Saturday:


HAIR APPOINTMENT at the Whittemore House Salon! 3.5 hours of grooming and pampering with some of the coolest people I’ve met in awhile. The salon is amazing – from the warm welcome to the amazing massage when washing my hair to the cucumber water – I could have stayed for another 3.5 hours. I was lucky enough to have my color done by Larry, one of the owners, and he used an amazing “painting” technique that he is well-known for. He and his partner travel around the country training other salons in the technique – he’s considered a “hair guru” and I will be happy to only let him touch my locks from now on. Jamie cut my hair, and she added such amazing layers to create a healthier look that frames my face – I even trusted her to give me LONG BANGS and I love them! Very happy, definitely going back!

Dinner at Faustina at the Cooper Union Hotel for Family & Friends night. It’s always an honor to be invited to Scott Conant’s restaurant openings to have a chance to try the food and see the restaurant before the public is allowed. Faustina does not disappoint! The decor of the restaurant is perfect for the hotel. The small plates allow you to try lots of different things while still feeling content yet not stuffed in the end. They’ll be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, which I think is amazing and opens Scott up to a new realm of dining. Faustina feels like it may turn into the next spot to dine for the young, jet-setters – and having the hotel rooms right upstairs makes it even easier!

Sunday:


After a busy and COLD weekend, my husband and I wanted to do something good for our bodies and minds – so we decided to try YOGA for the first time! We went to a yoga and pilates studio on 3rd Avenue between 17th & 18th Streets. The place was great – very zen. We didn’t realize that the class we went to was intermediate level yoga, but the instructor was so patient and sweet with us. I think we did pretty darn well considering we didn’t know any of the poses and the class was an HOUR AND A HALF of fluid movement through the poses. I thought I might die when I found myself standing on one foot with my other foot straight out in front of me holding my big toe with my other arm straight up in the air – forget about the breathing I was supposed to be focusing on! My husband was a whole other story… 🙂 In the end, we were so happy to have survived and the meditative portion at the end brought us down to a calm place we never reach post-running. We’re going to continue with the yoga on Sundays, but today I am feeling that darn pigeon pose!

We cooked dinner at home with my brother – we made polpette di zucchini (meatballs stuffed with zucchini). It was my first go at this recipe, so there were some hiccups – brother burning is hand on the pan, husband burning his elbow on another pan, me getting testy when my husband made a comment about my polpette not looking like the ones he’s used to in Italy. hahaha. In the end, we all thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, and I am confident I will only perfect it the next time I try. That’s my method of learning to cook – the first time is a trial and the second time I have it pretty down pat!

Wow – that was a full weekend now that I look at it…I hope you enjoy my weekend updates – I think this is the best way to sum it all up each Monday!

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Mr. Bean Cooking Turkey

In honor of “Turkey Day” (as my Italian husband calls it), I thought it would be appropriate to share a Thanksgiving-inspired video. Since I love Mr. Bean and I love Thanksgiving, this is perfect:

Happy Early Turkey Day!!!

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Marrakesh, Morocco – Honeymoon part 1


After our wedding in Tuscany, MM and I flew from Bologna to Casablanca in Morocco and then took another plane to Marrakesh. A close family friend gave us her home (aka palace) in Marrakesh for a week. This gift also came with a full staff – personal guide, chef, and cleaning crew! It was just the two of us in a house that would literally cover an entire New York City block!


Since we’ve been back and we’ve been telling everyone that we went to Marrakesh, we have realized how few of our friends even know what country it is in…and then, they ask where Morocco is! So, I feel it is my duty to shine a light on this fanastic cultural experience and destination.

Marrakesh is known as the “Red City” because of the redish color of nearly all of the buildings – it is an important and former imperial city in Morocco. Like many North African and Middle Eastern cities, Marrakesh contains an old city (the médina) and a modern city (called Gueliz). Marrakech is the third largest city in Morocco after Casablanca and Rabat.

Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna. The square is constantly bustling with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers, and musicians. By night, the square turns into food stalls, becoming a huge open-air restaurant. The smell and sounds alone will make you feel as though you’ve transported to another planet.

Although midday was deadly hot to wander through the souks, we did buy a beautiful leather suitcase, some ceramic jars, two huge carpets (it would make ABC Carpet cry at the price we scored), some traditional Morrocan dresses for me, and some leather shoes for both MM and me.


We were spoiled with our own personal chef for the entire week, so we didn’t go to a restaurant once. We were told that in Marrakesh, to go to a restaurant is sad to the people who can cook for you at home. (Although there were certainly some fantastic restaurants for the tourists.) From wild chicken with curry to seven vegetable cous cous to freshly pureed strawberries…we were in heaven!

There’s more to share about this experience, but I will leave you with that to get your tastebuds slightly moist for all things Morrocan…

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Fage Yogurt – perfect for recipes!

Relating to a recent article in the NY Times – Yogurt Recipes – I would like to discuss my growing obsession with Fage Greek yogurt. I began eating Fage yogurt a couple of years ago, but it was very hard to find in delis around the city. I knew of only a few that had it, but I couldn’t always make special trips just for the yogurt. Thankfully, Fage USA was born, and Americans fell in love. Demand = Supply = more delis carrying Fage!

This yogurt is thick and plain and very different than the Dannon versions of thin and sweet yogurt. Fage can substitute as a cereal sidekick and alternative to mayo or creme fraiche in almost any recipe.

Yogurt is receiving a lot of attention from health-conscious individuals and nutritionists because it has shown to provide many health benefits – protection against intestinal/vaginal infections/bowel cancer and it increased calcium absorption and enhances the immune system. It also contains a prebiotic inulin, which is a nondigestible ingredient that helps the growth of a healthy bacteria in the lower digestive tract. People on antibiotics are advised to eat yogurt to restore the bacteria that the medicine kills. Yogurt provides protein as well – as much as 13 grams in a cup.

To receive any of these health benefits, though, the yogurt must contain live, active cultures. If a yogurt has been pasteurized by the manufacturer or has been heated, the bacteriaare dead. The bacteria should be listed in the ingedients on the container right after milk.

You can find plenty of yogurt recipes here, but this recipe is one good way to incorporate it into PASTA!

Pasta With Smoked Salmon and Yogurt

Ingredients
Salt
1 box gemelli pasta
1 cup Greek yogurt (preferably Fage)
1/2 pound smoked salmon, cut into bite-size pieces
1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped
Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
2 cups packed arugula
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
Coarsely ground black pepper

Preparation
1. Bring a large pot of salty water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta. While it cooks, combine in a large serving bowl the yogurt, salmon, garlic, lemon zest and juice, arugula and dill. Just before the pasta is finished cooking, scoop out 1/2 cup pasta water and reserve.
2. Drain the pasta and slide it into the bowl. Using two spoons, toss the pasta and sauce as you would a salad. If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the reserved pasta water. Season to taste with salt and grind a generous amount of pepper on top.

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Easter Dinner – Honey-Baked Ham

Last night, I wanted to do something special for MM for Easter dinner. Although Easter is an important holiday in both of our families, we have to choose our holidays wisely because we need to use our vacation to get to Italy and Pittsburgh throughout the year. Which means that Easter tends to fly under the holiday radar, so we need to create our own special traditions.

MM’s typical Catholic-Italian Easter is slightly different and more mature than my American version. We both agree that my colorful version with died eggs, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, Peeps and dressing up for church is pretty exciting, so MM let me entertain us this year. Although, we did go to a Catholic church, which was my way of reaching out to his family’s Easter traditions.

For our dinner, I decided that a honey-baked ham, roasted red potatoes, roasted vegetables, and squash would be perfect for both of our tastebuds! MM doesn’t like squash, so I was happy to make that for my own enjoyment. We added candles to add to the special occasion, and dessert consisted of jelly beans and delicious bread pudding from Whole Foods…it was great! I think next year we’ll have a hard time topping this year’s dinner, but we will certainly try!

Honey-Baked Ham

Ingredients
1 boneless country ham
2 cups honey, for glazing ham
2 tablespoons Spice Rub, recipe follows
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped fine
6 celery stalks
Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Place ham on an open brown paper bag for easy clean up. With the tip of a paring knife carefully score a 1-inch grid pattern around the outside of the ham. Brush the entire surface of the meat on all sides with some of the honey.
Season the entire surface of the meat on all sides with the toasted spice rub and thyme. Add about a half cup of water to the base of the roaster. Place ham on several celery sticks in the roasting pan.
Cook for 1 hour. Every 15 minutes, baste ham with juices that collect in the base of the roaster and the honey. Let rest for 15 minutes before carving as desired.

SPICE RUB:
1/4 cup fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/4 cup (1-ounce) pure California sweet chili powder*
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
If you have a small spice mill blender or a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices, grind fennel, coriander, pepper, and chili flakes. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.

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Artichoke Basille’s Pizza

In a quest to find better pizza than Luzzo’s, I recently found Artichoke Basille’s Pizza on East 14th Street. This authentic tiny shop certainly lacks in restaurant decor – tables, servers, host, etc – but that is exactly what makes the personality of Artichoke so popular. The portions and the presentation at Artichoke are huge and sloppy but always delicious. The ceiling, the chandelier and the photo of the Kennedy brothers on the wall make for an interested and slightly more sophisticated twist…

They serve three varieties: square Sicilian, round Neapolitan, and an artichoke-spinach pie. All serving different preferences, but all delicious! Keith Richards apparently loves the artichoke-spinach, which goes to show what kind of customer base they have been able to gain.

Don’t forget to try the other Italian-American menu items – cauliflower fritters, flattened meatballs on a stick, sauteed broccoli rabe with Kalamata olives, and their namesake colossal stuffed artichokes!

Though it may be a different menu than the strictly Neapolitan menu at Luzzo’s, Artichoke offers more of what I’m looking for at a better price and I can still have it delivered…in half the time!

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Mexican Pizza

MM is in L.A. for work, so I decided to take a weekend trip home to Pittsburgh. One of my other sisters is coming home from D.C. and we are going to celebrate her son’s second birthday. I am told it is going to be a Diego themed party – Diego is the Spanish speaking friend of Dora the Explorer, which is a very popular children’s cartoon character who exposes little kids to the Spanish language. The party will only be our family, but two of my sisters who live in Pittsburgh have six children in total, so the party will be full.

When I asked my sister what she was doing for the theme, she only had a pinata in mind. Being that I LOVE planning parties and making themes for everything, I was shocked. What about the menu? What about decor? What about music? My sister mentioned that she was worried the little kids wouldn’t be experimental with Mexican food, and she was thinking of having pizza…I had to find a compromise.

So, in addition to a few normal pizzas for backup, I am going to make a MEXICAN DIEGO PIZZA! Hopefully, I can fool all of my nieces and nephews into eating it because I know once they try, they will love it.

Ingredients
1/2 pound stir-fry beef strips
1 pound frozen pepper stir-fry, thawed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons taco seasoning mix
1 (12-inch thin) pizza crust (recommended: Boboli)
1/2 cup lime-garlic salsa (recommended: Pace)
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
Sour cream, for serving
Refrigerated guacamole, for serving
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Directions
-Set up grill for direct cooking over medium heat – oil grate when ready to start cooking
-In a bowl, combine beef strips, pepper stir-fry, oil and taco seasoning

-Grill beef and pepper strips on hot oiled grill about 5 minutes total
-Remove pizza crust from package and place on grill

-Top with salsa, cheese, beef and pepper strips
-Turn heat down to medium and cook pizza covered for 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese has melted and starts to bubble.
-Serve hot garnished with sour cream, guacamole, and cilantro.

INDOOR: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Combine and season beef and pepper strips as directed. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan. When oil is hot, saute beef and pepper strips for 5 minutes. Remove from pan; set aside. Remove pizza crusts from package and top with salsa and cheese. Top with beef and peppers and bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and begun to bubble. Garnish as directed.

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Cream & Pesto Linguine with Shrimp

Last night, I cooked dinner for MM and another couple of our friends. The girl who was coming to dinner doesn’t like tomatoes very much…that caused quite an issue considering most of our recipes are centered around pomodoro. So, I did some research, found this recipe for Cream & Pesto Linguine with Shrimp, and pulled it off pretty well! The empty pan told me so…

Ingredients:
1 pound fresh linguine

1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp,
peeled and deveined – I prefer no tails
2 tablespoons Herbs of Provence
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup pesto
1/2 cup reserved pasta
cooking water
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Directions:
Set a large 1-gallon stock pot of water to a boil and add the kosher salt. Place the linguine in the pot and stir the pot until the water returns to a boil. Cook the pasta – since it’s fresh it should only take about 3 minutes.
While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce. Set a 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the pan. Once the butter has melted, season the shrimp with 1 tablespoon of the Herbs of Provence and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and add the shrimp to the pan. Sear the shrimp until pink, about 1 minute, then turn over and cook for another minute. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Add the onions and saute until softened and lightly caramelized, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cream, pesto, remaining tablespoon of Herbs of Provence, remaining teaspoon of the salt to the pan and bring to a boil. Cook the sauce until the cream is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Return the shrimp, linguine and the reserved cooking water to the pan and cook, tossing to incorporate for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and add the parsley and parmesan cheese and toss to blend. Serve immediately.

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the chef’s loft

Last night, MM and I were treated to a full course dinner in a loft prepared by a personal chef. I know, I know. That sounds faaaaancy…but we were actually invited to help the chef organize his idea of having a loft where he can make private dinners for groups of people, parties, etc. He is also Italian, and he would like to create a “restaurant” in his loft so that people can have that feeling of privacy and exclusivity while eating a fantastically homemade meal.
He is from Umbria, so the menu he prepared primarily consisted of dishes that are native to his hometown. It was more elaborate than I was expecting, but I wasn’t complaining. He served a salad with carpaccio, bruschetta, pureed garbanzo beans with pancetta, asparagus lasagna, filet of pork and tiramisu. The menu was more detailed than that, but I accidentally forgot his hand-written menu to share all of the delicious details…
Most everything was fantastic – homemade pasta in the lasagna, the filet cooked in red wine, roasted garbanzo beans on top of the puree, and many other finely planned details that made a big difference. The only comments I had were minor and usually related to salt, which I will admit – I like too much.

Just to be sure that I would like to try to help him in his endeavors, we planned another dinner for next week! This time he will be serving pesce (fish)…I think it is only necessary for me to try both land and sea dishes.

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Broccoli & Cauliflower Orecchiette

Last night, MM and I had the pumas over for dinner. It’s a good feeling to end the weekend or start the week with good friends around a dinner table. Plus, we never usually have the opportunity to extend our table to its full capacity!

To split up the responsibilities and the cost, we gave each person a dish and covered all of the following: salad, protein, pasta, bread, dessert and wine. Sometimes, dinner doesn’t need to be as grand, but last night was our first time trying one of the puma’s meatball and sauce recipe. That called for a full complimentary menu. MM and I were in charge of the pasta and salad.

To go with the main entree of the evening – meatballs and sauce – we decided to go with a more mild pasta with vegetables. Broccoli & Cauliflower Orecchiette was the perfect call:

Ingredients:
1 head of cauliflower
3 bushels of broccoli
3 cloves of garlic
1 Tablespoon of anchovy paste
1 box of orecciette
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 leaves of basil (chopped)
salt to taste

Recipe:
-boil broccoli and cauliflower in water till cooked
-remove broccoli and cauliflower but do not pout out the boiling water to keep for pasta
-heat garlic in olive oil till fragrant
-add anchovy paste and stir to release flavors
-add cooked broccoli and cauliflower to pan and mix
-add salt to taste
-smash the broccoli and cauliflower into small pieces to coat the orecciette as opposed to dominate in size
-add chopped basil and turn down heat
-boil water in pot again and add handful of salt
-add orecciette and cook until al dente
-add orecciette to sauce and turn up heat
-mix well to coat the pasta with the flavors
-serve with parmigiana, if desired

I plan on learning how to make the meatballs and sauce from my friend – so stay tuned!

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