Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Last Supper

This book was one of my Christmas presents. I had asked for it because the concept sounded fascinating and the chefs interviewed are among my favorite. I cannot tell you how delightful it was to discover that I have eaten at the restaurants owned by over 50% of the chefs featured in this book. I liked the photographs, but didn't love them. What I loved were the questions posed and the various answers. So, I decided to take the questions posed in the book and answer them myself. Cheers!

I. What would be your last meal on earth?

I would start off with an array of Armenian appetizers. I would want lahmanjoon: Armenian pizza. It is ground lamb with peppers and onions and tomato paste and spices on top of a thin crust. You usually squeeze a little lemon and then roll them up when they are nice and hot and eat this delectable blend of meat and dough. I would want my great aunt Nevart's beurek; she made thick mounds of philo dough and inside was a mixture of cheeses, feta being the prominent one. I would want a small plate of manti: lamb dumplings with yogurt and a sprinkle of cumin served on top.

For the main course, I would switch to Italian fare. I would want a timable...a huge blend of meats and pasta shapes encrusted in a huge mold of pasta. This dish was featured in the film Big Night and recreated by my best friend's parents one New Year's Eve. I would want gnocci with three sauces: pesto, alfredo, and bolognese. I would love some chicken marsala on top of linguine. There would be freshly shredded percorino romano cheese to go with all of this in addition to some boccocini marinated in olive oil and basil.

Dessert is en francais: I would love profiteroles with coffee, pistachio, and chocolate ice creams. I would love a vanilla bean creme brulet. Chocolate ganache would be aplenty all over the table in addition to bottomless cups of cafe au lait.

II. What would you drink with the meal?
Argentinian Malbecs, Smokey Shirazes, and Fruity Merlots.

III. What would be the setting of the meal?
I would want to eat at the dinner table of my best friend's grandmother's old home in Sag Harbor, New York. It had large bay windows with a view of the water where spotting cranes was sometimes a daily occurrence. I miss that house, I miss that table, and I miss its owner. Every meal I had at that table was divine, so this would be no exception.

IV. Would there be music?
Oh yes. I would want George Gershwin playing some upbeat piano rolls, especially a long rendition of Stairway to Paradise.

V. Who would be your dining companions?
All of my family, friends, and loved ones. It would be a big celebration. Jack, my nephew, would have to sit to the right of me.

VI. Who would prepare the meal?
I would take care of the Armenian appetizers and the gnocci. My best friend's parents would do the rest of the Italian fare, and I would get the ganache from Maison du Chocolat and the French pastries from Payard Patisserie in NYC.

You Say Potato

I never met a potato I didn't like, and these potatoes are no exception! This Thanksgiving I had wanted to do a scalloped potato and found a great recipe on the Whole Foods website. There are some wonderfully healthy recipes listed...of course this isn't exactly one of them! I used a mandolin to slice the potatoes on Thanksgiving but was too tired to do it on Christmas and quartered them. I will use the mandolin from now on...the cheese melted better in the thin layers of potato. And, it looked prettier, too!
Sometimes Gruyere can be expensive, so shop around. I went to two markets and found a price difference of over $6 a pound, so be careful where you purchase it. I found mine at Pathmark.
Gruyere Potato Gratin (courtesy of Whole Foods)
The Gruyere is the key to this dish because it melts and incorporates the cream better than cheddar ever could.
Serves 8
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
3/4 pound cave-aged Gruyere, shredded
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
sea salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.Boil whole potatoes for 10 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. In the meantime, sauté onions and garlic in butter until they are soft and translucent. Layer potato slices and onions in a 9 x 9 baking dish. Pour cream over the potatoes. Season to taste and sprinkle Gruyere over the whole shebang. Bake 40–50 minutes or until golden.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cookin' Cookies

We wanted to make Christmas cookies together. The grandfather was a huge fan of pignoli cookies. Choosing a recipe was a challenge, because we didn't want the cookies to be crunchy. Rather, they should be "al dente": chewy to the tooth. This recipe is the perfect texture for a pignoli cookie. He meticulously placed the pignoli nuts in the cookie (such as in the photo), whearas I clustered mine all over. Both balances of nuts were delicious! I recommend this recipe anytime when you have leftover pignoli nuts after making pesto (he made an arugala pesto a week earlier).

PIGNOLI COOKIES (courtesy of

1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 c. unsifted all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 can (8 oz.) almond paste
2 egg whites
1 jar (3 oz.) pignoli nuts
Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease two large cookie sheets. Sift together granulated sugar and 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar with flour and salt; set aside.
In a medium bowl, break up almond paste into small pieces using a fork. Add egg whites and beat with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended and smooth.
With a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until well blended. Using slightly rounded teaspoonfuls, roll dough between hands into balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Place balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Lightly press into rounds, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Press nuts into tops. Bake at 300 F. 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are golden. Remove to wire rack and cool. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Store several days in tightly covered container to mellow. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

I saw the peanut butter and jelly thumbprint cookies in December's Cooking Light and really wanted to bake them for Christmas! My best friend did a cookie exchange with her supper club a week ago and someone made these cookies. I liked them, but didn't love them. The person didn't use chunky peanut butter, which is a must for this recipe. I also didn't like the way the raspberry jam tasted; I wanted an authentic flavor. So, I picked up Polaner Grape fruit spread and wow...what an amazing difference! These tasted like a peanut butter sandwich in cookie form! Just make sure you have lots of milk on hand when you eat these.

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter *do not use creamy - it will ruin the flavor*
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray
7 tablespoons seedless raspberry preserves **I used Polaner Grape Fruit Spread**
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Preparation: Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and salt, stirring well with a whisk; set aside.
Place sugars, peanut butter, and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating on low speed just until combined.
Lightly coat hands with cooking spray. Shape dough into 36 balls (about 2 1/2 teaspoons each). Place balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into center of each dough ball, leaving an indentation. Cover and chill 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Uncover dough. Bake at 350° for 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove cookies from pans, and cool on a wire rack.
Place preserves in a small microwave-safe bowl, and microwave at HIGH 20 seconds, stirring once. Add juice, stirring until smooth. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon preserves mixture into the center of each cookie.
Yield 3 dozen (serving size: 1 cookie)

Monday, December 17, 2007

The House that Jack Built

This, my friends, is the (ginger)bread house that Jack built (with help from is Aunt Maimy).
Last Monday I arrived at his house with a big gift bag filled with icing, graham crackers, red icing, green icing, twizzlers, gummi bears, peppermint disks, jelly circles, white sprinkles, and a flap book about a gingerbread house for my nephew.
I am very proud of his interest and skills in this gingerbread house project since he is only two! He has an interest in cooking and food, so he enjoyed himself as much as I did.
Once I colored some of the frosting green, we used a spatula to spread it over a flat piece of cardboard. Once I showed him how to spread, he pushed my hand away and said "Maimy no," which means he wanted to do it himself. :) As he spread the frosting, I was able to construct a quick house. We placed it down and then spread white sprinkles to make snow. This turned into The Great Sprinkle Debacle. While most made it on the green frosting, some ended up all over the floor. Thank God for mini vacs. After that, we started decorating and he took a huge wad of gummi bears and stuck them in one section. I was tempted to leave it, because it was so cute, but I was able to show him how to spread them out. Once I gave him the green icing (see photo),there was no going back. I was constantly shoving candy pieces on front of him to stack together or to place on the house! The Great Peppermint Pandemic occurred after we took turns liking the spatula filled with vanilla frosting. The unwrapped disks started flying everywhere at Jack's hand - we made a game of throwing them up in the air and screaming. My sister said she found another one just yesterday under the cabinets. :)
It is my true hope that this will begin a new tradition for me and Jack and we shall build a gingerbread house each year!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Food always comes to those who love to cook." ~ Chef Gusteau

A few years ago I made my first ratatouille after my best friend's mentioning of the dish. I wasn't sure where to find a good recipe because there were so many, so I took a chance and was really fortunate to find a delicious one that was simple yet tasty. The recipe came from a lesser known recipe database online. It is the recipe I still use to this day. I usually serve it over some white rice. It is a dish I make for myself on winter nights. It freezes well, so its also good for those evenings after a busy work day when you want to savor some hearty vegetables and unwind.

I had been wanting to see the film Ratatouille since it opened in theatres, and thankfully the other night I finally watched it. I made a Mexican dinner of soft beef tacos with Spanish rice and some red wine and then sat down on my couch, placed a blanket over myself, and laughed for two hours. Oh I loved it, and immediately I needed to track down the recipe that inspired the monumental moment in the film. I found the recipe created by Thomas Keller, but not sure if I want to recreate it. I like my recipe so much.

The character in the film I adored the most was Chef Gusteau. The fact that he died after losing a Michelin star made me adore his passion for food and perfection. He was a great teacher to Remi, and of course I do believe the motto that anyone can cook. As Keller said, anyone can cook if they have a passion for it. Gusteau is the kind of character that makes any epicurean smile.

This is my recipe I use for ratatouille:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 small eggplant, cubed
2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
3 to 4 small zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 teaspoon dried leaf basil
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried leaf thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


In a 4-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add eggplant; stir until coated with oil. Add peppers; stir to combine.

Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep vegetables from sticking.
Add tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs; mix well. Cover and cook over low heat about 15 minutes, or until eggplant is tender but not too soft.Serves 4.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When life gives you lemons, grab some tequila and salt!

“Huge lemons, cut in slices, would sink like setting suns into the dusky sea, softly illuminating it with their radiating membranes, and its clear, smooth surface aquiver from the rising bitter essence.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

The Barefoot Contessa and I are on the same length when it comes to our palates. In addition to her extreme dislike of cilantro (or, as I call it, soaplantro), on one episode she confessed that she would take a lemon dessert over a chocolate one any day.

I am sure Ina Garten then asks the same question I do: Who wouldn't?!?

My love of the lemon is infinite. In any shape or form, I languish in its light and refreshing taste. I love lemon drop martini cocktails, limoncello liquor, and lemonade. I love flavoring my foods with lemon, including a lemon spaghetti to go along with shrimp fra diavlo. My micro plane for zesting lemon is constantly being used; I even love the way the lemon zest clumps together on the plane before I place it into a mixture. I love lemon soup, Greek style, and I love making lemon chicken in the oven.

Still, lemon desserts are my Achilles' heel when it comes to the genre of lemons! One of my favorite desserts was at Batali and Bastianich's OTTO: a sweet corn gelato with blueberries and lemon curd.

There are two desserts that I enjoy making. Both are simple and not exactly "gourmet", but the flavors are refreshing and delightful, and both are somewhat figure friendly!

Notes: I first made the lemonade layer cake five years ago when I was a guest at my best friend's supper club gathering. Make sure you cool the frosting first! I made the pink lemonade pie for the first time a year ago for a pot luck, and it was a big hit. It is so easy to make and perfect for hot summer nights.

If anyone has some great lemon dessert recipes he/she would like to share, please send them along this way in the comments section! Thank you!

Lemonade Layer Cake (courtesy of Cooking Light Magazine)

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons thawed lemonade concentrate
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups fat-free buttermilk
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons thawed lemonade concentrate
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare cake, place first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; stir well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat well after each addition.
Pour batter into 2 (9-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
To prepare frosting, place 2 tablespoons butter and the next 4 ingredients (2 tablespoons butter through cream cheese) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, and beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat). Chill 1 hour.
Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Store cake loosely covered in the refrigerator.

Pink Lemonade Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (20 squares)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tablespoons sugar

1 quart (4 cups) vanilla frozen yogurt, softened
1/2 can (12-oz size) frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 container (4 oz) frozen whipped topping, thawed
Red food color, if desired
Lemon peel
Heat oven to 350°F. In medium bowl, mix all crust ingredients until well blended. Press in bottom and up side of 9-inch glass pie plate. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown; cool.
In large bowl, mix ice cream, lemonade concentrate, whipped topping and a few drops food color. Spoon and spread ice-cream mixture into cooled crust.
Freeze until firm, about 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature a few minutes before cutting. Garnish with lemon peel.

Monday, February 12, 2007

SOUP - Recipe Exchange

New York is finally getting a good amount of snow this week, so I thought the perfect post would be a recipe exchange for soups! I am normally not a fan of tomato soup, but I love making this recipe over and over again. Trust me, this kicked up version of classic tomato soup will warm you up in this ten degree weather! If you want to make a grilled cheese sandwich, I suggest using provolone cheese on some of the extra rye bread. The pancetta adds a great flavor and can be purchased at any Italian butcher shop! If you don't have one by you, use regular bacon.

I look forward to reading your soup recipe in the comment section! Cheers!

TOMATO AND PANCETTA SOUP (courtesty of Giada De Laurentiis)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 (3/4-inch-thick) slices rustic rye bread (each about 5 3/4 by 3 3/4 inches), cubed
6 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juices
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup sour cream

Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the bread and toss to coat with the pan drippings. Saute until the bread is crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 10 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.
Stir the mascarpone and sour cream in a small bowl to blend. Ladle the soup into bowls. Spoon a dollop of the mascarpone mixture atop the soup and serve!

Epicurean Escapades Commences

I think it was only a matter of time before I realized I needed a blog just for culinary adventures! I decided to dedicate this first post to epicurean essentials on the web that I often read or use! Cheers!

RECIPES (general)