A New York Thanksgiving

November 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and for the first year ever, I am cooking for my family in New York City. Having already made two trips to Whole Foods with another planned to pick up the turkey, I *think* I’m in a pretty good Thanksgiving place prep-wise. The execution, of course, is yet to be seen.

Since I will only be cooking for my mother, sister and Rupert, I’ve tried to scale back on the quantity of dishes paring out those things we find somewhat superfluous to hone in on the big ticket items. During this process, I definitely did some nerdy thinking about optimizing utility, marginal returns, etc. putting my degree in economics to good use. Also taking into account tastes and preferences, I’ve strategically omitted some of the traditional thanksgiving dishes that somehow have never caught on in my family. Stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie? No thanks. Call us weird but that’s just how it has always been. That being said, I didn’t want to forego some of Thanksigiving’s traditional flavors, so I’ve incorporated them here and there in the menu below:

Torrisi Turkey
Torrisi’s turkey sandwich definitely ranks among the best I’ve ever had, so I’m looking forward to seeing how well I can recreate the incredibly moist, flavorful meat at home. The breast is also a nice alternative to an entire turkey when only feeding four people.

Baked Gruyere Cheese Grits 
While grits on the dinner table may seem unconventional, to Southerns it should make perfect sense. Basically grits are just another carbohydrate that is conducive to adding obscene amounts of butter and cheese. What’s not to like?

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
My favorite brussels spouts of all time. I have my friend Lauren to thank for introducing me to this recipe.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
While I love a good s’more and realize this may be an incendiary statement, I believe marshmallows have no place on the dinner table. Hence, in place of sweet potato casserole, I’ve snuck the tubers into biscuits instead.

Cranberry Upside Down Cake
I made this cake for Christmas this year, and as I’ve come to expect from Smitten Kitchen, it was incredible. The perfect balance of rich and tart and deceivingly elegant for how easy it is to make.

And there you have it. Expect a full report next week! In the meantime, a Happy Thanksgiving to all!


Conquering Fears with a KitchenAid

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

While we established my love for ice cream a few posts back. I’ve not quite fully addressed my sweet tooth’s other passion: baked goods. For as long as I can remember, I’ve found something very exacting and magical about the process of starting with myriad ingredients, combining them in just the right way and a few hours later seeing the transformed results. I also love that the combinations and ratios and a base of no more than a dozen or so ingredients can result in so many varieties of textures, consistencies and flavors. From cookies to cakes to quick breads to scones, the base of these is essentially the same.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the results are most often sweet and delicious.

My first true love when it came to baked goods most definitely reflects my upbringing in the 80s in a very small Southern town: the Sarah Lee frozen pound cake. While my taste has evolved a bit, I have to admit I am still kind of in awe of it’s unmatched texture, and distinct “buttery” flavor, not to mention the uniform, perfectly browned rim that outlined each slice.

Of course, studying abroad in Paris did nothing but exacerbate my love of pastries and breads in particular. I loved the smell wafting from the boulangerie-patisseries each morning and decided that any culture that reinforced purchasing a fresh baguette on one’s way home EVERY evening was a-okay in my book.

For many years, however, I’ve sort of played it safe or taken the easy route in the baking department – an occasional layer cake here or there, maybe some profiteroles as a stretch. Yeast, kneading dough, rolling it out, willing it to rise properly – it was a bit intimidating, I admit.  A few weeks ago, however, a beaten up box arrived at my apartment and the 20+ pound hand-me-down KitchenAid (thanks, Mom!) has opened my eyes to the possibilities that paddle and dough hook attachments allow a baker.

For my test run, I went the bread route, first thinking cinnamon rolls then scaling back to a slightly less sweet and indulgent treat (only because I was not in possession of cream cheese at the time and believe any good cinnamon roll demands cream cheese frosting). When I stumbled across Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Homemade Cinnamon Bread, I went straight to work. I tacked the yeast that intimidated me all of these years, and found that while baking in a hot oven in 90+ degree temps may seem counterintuitive, a hot apartment kitchen creates the perfect conditions for dough to rise. Luckily I also purchased a rolling pin a while back, so this dough was spared being rolled by a wine bottle which has been known to happen to many a pizza dough and pie crust in the past.

Thanks to the ridiculous heat we had in New York last week, I shaved about 30 minutes off the first 2-hour rise and an hour off the second 1 3/4- hour rise. Given we still have a month or two of summer to go, there may be a lot more bread baking in my future! At each step I followed instructions and tried to be exact, and thanks to Ree’s great photos and step by step instructions, I have to say it seemed even…easy! Behold the results: it even swirled, which is really all I could ask for anyway.

Up next? I’ve received a request for croissants from my in-house taster, but I feel as that might just be taking things a bit too far at this early stage…we shall see.


Pizza Philosophy

October 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

Throwing together a quick pizza for dinner is such an appealing option these days that I’d say it happens every other week in my apartment. Given the frequency and the myriad permutations of orthodox and unorthodox ingredients, the sky really is the limit. I usually start by selecting an ingredient or two that really strike my fancy, thinking of classic flavor profiles/combinations using those and other ingredients, selecting the most fitting cheese(s) and then reconfirming my concoction will actually hypothetically taste good when served in pizza form.

This was certainly the process I went through this weekend when creating a pizza plan at whole foods. I had recently heard a friend rave about a brie and fig flatbread they created and it inspired me to integrate fruit. Pears are definitely in abundance this time of year and one of my favorite combos is a pear, arugula and prosciutto salad. With this in mind, I grabbed a blend of grated fontina, pecorino and parmesan planned to top things off with some balsamic reudction. On another tip from my friend, I grabbed some frozen dough at Whole Foods (who knew this existed in the freezer section!?) and was on my way.

Last night, I began assembling my pizza (for three days I begrudgingly but patiently waited for my rock hard pears to ripen) and in my produce drawer noticed a lone leek leftover from some cauliflower soup. After debating for several moments if a leek would work on this particular pizza, I realized leeks, like pancetta, usually make everything more tasty. I sliced my leek into thin rings and sautéed them in olive oil until slightly caramelized and softened. About 15 minutes later, it was judgement time. The verdict: leeks took the pizza over the top and nicely balanced the sweetness of the pear. I will certainly be keeping these in mind for future pizza creations…I’m thinking some leeky variation on tarte flambee pizza might be in my near future…

Pear, Prosciutto & Arugula Pizza (with Leeks!)

1 pound pizza dough
1 leek
1.5 cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of fontina, pecorino and parmesan but mozzarella would also do nicely)
1 ripe Bartlett pear, thinly sliced
4-5 slices prosciutto, torn into thin strips
2 handfuls of arugula
Balsamic reduction or syrup
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
Red pepper flakes

1. Preheat oven to 425. Slice the light green and white part of the leek into ½-inch coins. Separate the interior rings. Over medium high heat, sauté the leek in a bit of olive oil until caramelized and softened. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Roll out pizza dough onto a non-stick baking sheet or pizza peel if you have one. Top with cheese, sliced pear and sautéed leeks. Bake for about 15 minutes, remove from oven. Top with prosciutto and bake another 3-5 minutes more.
3. Toss arugula with salt, pepper, and balsamic reduction to taste. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if desired. Slice and serve!

The Great Pumpkin!

October 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Over the last month or so, pumpkin has been emerging both in the supermarkets and on the internet, like clockwork as it does each fall. While Thanksgiving traditions should (and will) be given their own post, one thing that is traditionally missing on my family’s Thanksgiving table has always been pumpkin pie. Gasp…I know. That’s right, no pumpkin pie and usually no pie in general. We are much more a cake family that occasionally detours towards cobbles, crumbles and buckles when seasonal fruit is involved. Perhaps it’s that reason alone that pumpkin pie has just never appealed to me.

My pumpkin memories come instead from my best friend’s mom’s pumpkin bread. I still recall the smell of it baking and us gobbling down as much as we could get our hands on when it was still warm from the oven. While I don’t recall how old I was, at some point I copied her recipe on an index card in bubbly child’s handwriting. I still use the card today and smile over the ingredient list when I come to 3 cups flower. As soon as I buy another loaf pan (and find storage for it my studio apartment kitchen), I plan to whip up a batch this season but in the meantime, I couldn’t resist some doing something the jar of Libby’s pumpkin I picked up on an autumnal whim on my last trip to the grocery store.

Enter one of my favorite dessert sources: Baked. This recipe from the first Baked cookbook actually came to me via another tried and true source Martha Stewart. I halved the recipe as my fridge can only hold so many pumpkin whoopie pies and came out with about a dozen large whoopie pies. Admittedly my decision to make this particular version of whoopie pie was most definitely based on the cream cheese icing, which I believe can be considered a dessert in itself. Leftover icing in my kitchen means finding any appropriate vehicle with which to consume it. Graham crackers and teddy grahams while low brow serve this function surprisingly well…

But back to the whoopie pies! They bake very quickly – no more than 10-12 minutes – and come out very soft and cake-like. The tang of the frosting was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the pumpkin. Next time, I may miniaturize them even more than suggested to create a more macaroon-ish sized treat.  They also went over well with my elderly neighbor Ben and one of my favorite doormen Jose who are often recipients of my baking experiments when I need to unload them for fear of consuming them all myself!

Pancetta Pasta Pronto!

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Sometime during my middle school years, my mom cobbled together a dish one night that is now fondly known as “Pesto Pasta Pronto!”. The exclamation point (which I visualize whenever I say it) added some pizazz and emphaiszed the alliteration nicely. On a side note this invisible yet seemingly mandatory exclamation point seems to surface in many aspects of my life (i.e. I have a friend who we now refer to in email writing, etc as “Craigers!”)

On nights when all of our crew practice, ballet lessons, choir practices, etc at up most of the evening, some diced rotisserie chicken, jarred pesto and bowtie pasta with freshly grated parmesan more than did the trick and certainly beat fast food. In my adult years, particularly lately, my go go go lifestyle has often caused me to to resort to Pesto Pasta Pronto! a time or two and all too often Seamlessweb is my go to for lunch, dinner and sometimes (gasp!) both. Lately however, I’ve tried to plan quick simple dishes that can rival takeout and do less damage budget wise. Often I take inspiration from recent restaurant dishes we’ve enjoyed, and lately two pastas from Maialino and Otto both featuring sausage and greens came to mind.

This may become my own signature quick pasta dish dubbed fittingly “Pancetta Pasta Pronto!” avec exclamation mark of course! While I didn’t measure any quantities exactly, this dish can certainly be improvised, substituted and/or tweaked to the ratios of your liking. The best part: it can be thrown together in just about 25 minutes. In keeping with the pronto theme of this post, I didn’t even snap a photo before we dove in!

Pancetta Pasta Pronto!
Serves 2

1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 yellow pepper, julienned
1 bunch broccolini (cut into small floret and a bit thinly sliced stalk)
1/2 pound dry penne rigate
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, more for garnish
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Meanwhile, over medium high heat, saute pancetta until crispy and set aside. In same pan, saute yellow pepper until slightly caramelized and tender. Add broccolini florets and stalk slivers. (I love how momofuku ssam bar serves the sliced stalk in their spicy sausage rice cakes, so I’ve taken to doing the same…) Saute until tender and slightly browned/charred. Set veggies and pancetta aside (I kept mine in a warm oven).

At the same time as you cook the pancetta and veggies, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in pasta and cook until just al dente. Strain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Return pasta to pot and stir in pancetta, peppers and broccolini. Add 1/4 cup pasta water, about 2 tablespoons heavy cream and parmesan cheese. Still well and season liberally with salt and pepper. Depending on the sauciness at this point, add additional pasta water and cream as needed unti pasta is coated in a nice creamy sauce.

Sprinkle with additional parmesan if desired and serve. And there you have it: Pancetta Pasta Pronto!


Here are a few subsitutions that crossed my mind as I made this dish. I’m sure I will dabble with these variations in the near future:

Pancetta – You could use several slices of bacon or italian sausage with the casing removed. Proscuitto could aslo be stirred in a the very end (so as not to overcook it)
Yellow Pepper – A sweet onion or shallots would work nicely here as well.
Broccolini – I had originally thought to use chard but this was what Trader Joes had to offer (and I may even prefer it!)  Broccoli Rabe or spinach would also be nice.
Penne – Orecchiette, fusili or linguine may also be nice in this

Basically the sky is the limit!

Impromptu Panini

September 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

One night this weekend upon decided to stay in, I surveyed my fridge in hopes of piecing together a passable dinner with its contents. A zucchini and yellow squash from the greenmarket along with a bit of leftover pancetta and a rather absurd assortment of cheese (does having no fewer than SIX types of cheese in one’s fridge indicate a problem?) inspired me to offer up pasta as an option, but Rupert raised the bar and suggested I work them into a panini. A lover of all grilled/toasted/pressed breads and the proud owner of a new grill pan, I quickly accepted the challenge! The results were surprisingly delicious and reinforced my recent theory that pancetta makes everything taste better. While quantities were all estimated, here is the basic recipe concept:

Summer Squash and Pancetta Panini

4 slices ciabatta or sourdough bread
1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 yellow squash, thinly sliced on a mandoline
1 zucchini, thinly sliced on a mandoline
1 cup assorted grated cheeses (fontina, mozzerella and pecorino romano)
olive oil
coarse salt and freshly grated pepper

1. Saute pancetta over medium high heat until crispy. Remove from pan and set aside while leaving drippings in pan. Over medium-high heat, saute squash and zuchinni in pancetta drippings with a touch of olive oil if needed until slightly browned, soft and cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Sprinkle cheeses and pancetta on the bottom slices of bread and top with a liberal amount of squash and zucchini and the remaining slices of bread. (If I had any basil on hand, I would have added a few leaves of that as well). Drizzle both sides of bread lightly with olive oil. Grill the panini in a grill pan or panini press until cheese is melted (I prefer mine on the charred side, but feel free to adjust cooking time to your preferred grill mark degree). Cut in half and serve!

We also opened a bottle of 2007 Corazon rose from Corison Winery that we purchased on our drive through Napa this summer.  We only shipped 6 bottles back (and tucked a few more into our suitcases) from all of our wine country jaunt, and we loved this one particularly because we had never come across another Cabernet Sauvignon rose.  With fall almost officially upon us, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy this bottle.

It was the perfect meal for a relaxing night in!

Breakfast Pizza Sans Delivery Charge

September 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

For brunch this morning, we decided to give Pulino’s new delivery service a try. Their breakfast and sweet pizzas are hard to beat, and we are not the only ones among our friends who have visited multiple weekends in a row! Much to our dismay, my apartment just 10 blocks away proved too far for their free delivery range. For a $20 fee, they could still deliver, but when ordering only $25 worth of food we couldn’t quite justify that kind of expense (although it was quite tempting!).

Instead, I set out to replicate one of our favorite breakfast pizzas given the ingredients I had on hand. Luckily a recent trip to the new Trader Joe’s in Chelsea had my fridge well-stokced with pizza doug, pancetta and several cheese I had planned to use later in the week. While we frequently make pizzas to delicious results, the cracking and baking off the eggs on top added a new level of dificulty or unknown to this version. While my end product’s yolks were slightly more cooked that I would have preferred, for a first try, it was quite a success. See photos and recipe below.

Four Cheese & Pancetta Breakfast Pizza

1 lb pizza dough (Trader Joe’s works surprisingly well)

1/3 cup pancetta, diced

1 small shallot, finely diced

2 cups grated cheeses (I used an assortment of mozzarella, fontina, parmesan & gruyere)

3 – 4 eggs (at room temperature)

coarse salt & freshly ground pepper

red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute pancetta and shallots until pancetta is crisp and shallots are soft, about 6-8 minutes over medium heat. Drain excess oil and set aside.

Roll dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment (I find an empty wine bottle serves as a rolling pin in a pinch). Sprinkle dough with cheese and pancetta & shallot mixture. Bake for 12-15 minutes and remove from oven.

Carefully crack eggs over the top of the pizza making sure they don’t run off the sides. I found making a small well by denting the dough with the back of a spoon worked well. Sprinkle with salt pepper, and and red pepper flakes. Return pizza (carefully) to oven and bake for approximately 8-10 minutes more, checking periodically for egg yolk firmness. Remove pizza from oven, cut and serve.

Accompanied by a latte that Rupert went out to procure for my efforts, this was a perfect weekend brunch. For those in New York, a trip to Pulino’s for brunch comes highly recommended. The ottima and patate pizzas are not to be missed. But I must warn you that it can become an addictive habit!

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