Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Going Nuts

No matter how much I plan--and I do plan--there are always a million things to do on the last days before Christmas. Is there enough food, enough snacks, enough cookies, enough wine, enough gifts? Although none of the above has ever occurred, I live in fear. Each year I seem to get sucked into the last minute frenzy.

So what am I doing? I'm going nuts--party nuts, that is. Party nuts are wonderful snacks to accompany a drink, a dessert or a cup of coffee. They could be savory, sweet or spicy. They are generally easy and quick to make, and they give you a big bang for your buck. They are great to have on hand during the holidays for last minute hostess gifts or to serve to drop-in guests. Just pop a batch into the freezer, and you will be good to go.

This is Wine Bar Nut Mix ready for the oven

Wine Bar Nut Mix from The Casual Vineyard Table by Carolyn Wente and Kimball Jones

2 cups pecans
2 cups almonds
2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh rosemary, sage, savory and thyme (or dried equivalent of whatever you have)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I use 1/2 teaspoon)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, toss the nuts with the maple syrup, olive oil, herbs and cayenne. Spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned. Season with salt and pepper and toss frequently until cool. Makes 6 cups. Can be stored in an airtight container for 2 weeks.

My favorite recipe for party nuts has to be Holy Mole Pecans that was posted on the now defunct Although they are simple to make, they take about 1 1/2 hours to roast in a slow oven. This is not a problem if you are at home anyway doing other things. They are perfect served as is or as a great crunchy topping for ice cream topped with Tia Maria, or my favorite, Patron XO Cafe.

Holy Mole Pecans before entering oven

Holy Mole Pecans

1 large egg white (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Mexican if you can get it)
2 cups raw pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Pinch habanero powder, or cayenne if you want a touch of heat

Preheat oven to 225F. Line baking sheet with parchment or non-stick foil.

Place egg white in bowl and whip until frothy. Whip in vanilla, then gently add pecans and toss until completely coated with mixture.

Sift remaining ingredients into a medium-sized bowl. Add sugar-cocoa mixture to pecans one quarter at a time, and very gently toss until well coated. I use my hands. Transfer pecans to prepared sheet and arrange in a single layer. Try not to let pecans touch each other.

Bake 30 minutes. Gently turn over nuts and continue to bake, stirring every 15 minutes until coating is lightly colored and dried out, about 1 hour and 15 minutes total. Remove from oven an immediately loosen nuts with metal spatula. Cool completely before serving.

Holy Mole Pecans out of oven

So, during this holiday season, don't go nuts--get into the kitchen and make some party nuts.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, November 20, 2009

More Than Just Turkey

Although the turkey is often the centerpiece around which Thanksgiving dinner is made, there is more to Thanksgiving than the turkey. At many tables it is the side dishes that star. What side dishes make their way to the table is often a combination of tradition, ethnicity and innovation--but not too much innovation.

One of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving is being part of a group of female cousins whose job it was to place handwritten slips of paper naming each side dish in the serving dishes on the dining room table. Of course, that was a ploy to keep us from being underfoot; but we took our job seriously while jostling for prime position for our personal favorites.

When I was growing up there were basically two ethnic groups that mattered. You were either Italian or you were not. My mother was the only one of her siblings to marry an Italian, so Thanksgiving was somewhat of a mixture of Italian and American dishes. My mother always made her stuffing with sausage, garlic, parsley, raisins and pine nuts. But her sister made an American version. No matter. We loved just about everything--except the turnips.

Later on when my mother relinquished her cooking duties to me, we shared Thanksgiving dinner with my father's brother and his family. My Aunt Helen and I divided the cooking each year. There was always a large platter of antipasto, a large tray of lasagna, a succulent turkey with all of the trimmings and the desserts.

Now a days the group is smaller and blood relatives few. The antipasto and the lasagna have been eliminated, but we still celebrate with family every year--our best friends. L and I have been sharing Thanksgiving dinner for the past six years. It's a routine that is anticipated, comfortable and fun. We share the cooking and each prepares family favorites. I make L's cream of mushroom soup, roast the turkey, make the cranberry sauce, make my family's stuffing and the corn muffins. L makes the mashed potatoes rich with cream cheese and heavy cream, candied yams, her mother-in-law's carrot souffle, her family's stuffing--and the only wiggle room here--some type of green vegetable.For dessert I always bake an apple crostata, a pumpkin pie and something extra. Sometimes pumpkin cheese cake bars; sometimes cranberry upside down cake; and this year pecan bars.

This year there will be ten of us. Besides L & J and one of their daughters, each of their mothers will be here along with my mother and our son and his girlfriend. We will toast to our good fortune to have one another and enjoy our feast. Cennt'anni!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kitchen Gods

I don't know what I did to anger the kitchen gods, but it must have been impressive since it has adversely affected my kitchen karma since last Friday.

It began when I decided to make some pumpkin gnocchi for dinner. I had all of the ingredients in the house; and, after all, I had made many batches of fluffy and delicious potato gnocchi in the past. Easy? Not so fast. I ended up with a lump of leaden orange-hued dough. There was no saving it.

I decided to think about dinner later and went on to candying a batch of nuts for a treat with drinks or dessert. Easy? Not so fast. Crystallized, stringy and rock hard--there was no saving them.

The next day T & G were expected for dinner. After burning a batch of crostini, I decided to make of batch of savory biscotti to have with drinks. Need I say more? The dough was tough and far from malleable. There was no saving them.

Thankfully, the rest of the dinner went off without a hitch. We had crostini (a new batch) topped with goat cheese and fig preserves. A lovely chicken roasted with carrots, lemons and olives followed. This was accompanied by a winter salad of escarole, red onion, walnuts and shards of Parmesan tossed with a mustard vinaigrette. There was apple cake topped with whipped cream for dessert. Redeemed! Or so I thought.

This is the chicken ready for the oven.

Dinners on Sunday and Monday were simple and uneventful. But yesterday when I tried to get a jump on my Thanksgiving baking--well. I had some time before dinner, so I decided to make the pastry dough and park it in the freezer until next week. The buttery dough for the apple crostata came together perfectly. On to the pastry for the pumpkin pie. A pastry dough, I might add, I have made hundreds of times. Not so fast. Right before my eyes it dissolved into a sticky mess. There was no saving it.

All I know is that I need to get my head into the game before Thanksgiving is upon us. L and I have been jointly hosting Thanksgiving for at least the last six years. I make a few appetizers, roast the turkey, and bake the desserts. She brings all of the side dishes. The number of people around the table varies from year to year, and we all look forward to it.

So I vow to banish distractions, and hopefully with the help of the kitchen gods, get on with the show.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Entertaining In An Instant

My husband was home this week recovering from back surgery. Believe me, this type of surgery has changed remarkably over the years, and recovery is somewhat easy. Last Saturday afternoon J and L called to see if they could visit the patient. John, of course, said yes and made plans for later in the day.

Earlier that day I had made a mushroom spread fragrant with lemon zest, thyme leaves and Pecorino cheese to have on hand during the weekend. When J and L arrived bearing gifts and good cheer, it was easy to slice up some dry Italian sausage and top some crostini with the mushroom spread as J opened a bottle of wine.

Soon we received a phone call from T and J asking if they could come to see John. Of course they could. When they arrived they joined us in another bottle of wine and some crostini.

As late afternoon turned into evening, it became apparent that we needed to think about dinner. Fortunately, I had made a large pot of chili that was sitting in the refrigerator. I pulled it out and began to heat it up. As I heated it, I searched the fridge to see what else could round out this meal. There were tortillas to heat up and cheddar cheese to grate. There were even some cinnamon biscotti in the freezer for dessert.

There is a lot to be said for having a well-stocked pantry--but there is more to be said about having good friends that feel comfortable enough to show up and go with the flow.

This recipe for Pumpkin Turkey Chili was posted on by Kristen Swensson. This is my variation. Perfect for a chilly fall day.

Pumpkin Turkey Chili
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 red or yellow pepper, chopped
1 4-oz. can chopped green chiles
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
2 cups (1 14.5 oz can) diced tomatoes, roughly pureed
1 19 oz. can cannellini beans
2 cups (1 14.5 oz can) pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste (do not skip this)
Pinch cinnamon

Saute the onion, bell pepper, green chiles and garlic in oil until tender--about 10 minutes. Add ground turkey and brown about 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans and pumpkin. Season with chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne and pinch of cinnamon.

Reduce heat and simmer at least 20 minutes. As with all chilis, this is even better after it sits for awhile.Thin with a little water if it becomes too thick. Top with cilantro, sour cream, or grated cheddar cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Clean Sweep

On my way home one day this month I heard on the car radio that it was National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. That's all the inspiration I needed to nudge me toward the job I have been meaning to get to for some time.

The day was gray and drizzly as I put on some coffee and my favorite news channel and got to it. I emptied the refrigerator shelf by shelf and began the task of cleaning everything while sorting through the odd bits one inevitably finds in even the cleanest refrigerator.

Maybe because of the down economy, I have been reading and hearing a lot lately of using up and finishing the leftover bits in the refrigerator and pantry at weeks' end.

I don't know about you, but I was brought up in a blue collar Italian-American family. Every bit of food was used all the time. In our house it was tantamount to a sin to throw away food. We ate mostly delicious peasant dishes containing very little meat. My mother always said my father did not like leftovers, so she did not serve them. Perhaps she misunderstood the meaning of the word.

Every Thursday--and I mean EVERY--my mother made a large batch of tomato sauce with meatballs and sausage. We would eat it that evening with pasta, called macaroni back then. Then EVERY Sunday we would eat it again. If rarely she would cook an eye round roast, it would appear a couple of days later under hot gravy alongside fried potatoes and peppers. A pot roast and potatoes would reappear as hash. To her these were not leftovers. I guess now one would say "cook once, eat twice."

As I cleaned out my refrigerator I was intent on using what I could. A half cup of white beans was mashed with some garlic and olive oil and added to some ground turkey along with an egg, some breadcrumbs, a half red pepper diced, and some seasonings to make turkey burgers. Various odd greens--endive, red leaf lettuce and some chicory along with some kalamata olives became the evening's salad.

And my favorite--one lonely tablespoon of marmeleda de jalapeno, carried back from Mexico City, topped the last bit of goat cheese on top of a piece of crostini. Along with one lone glass of sauvignon blanc this became my reward for a job well done.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Soup Days

It's been awhile since I've posted; and it's time to get back to writing.

The summer was busy visiting friends on Nantucket, Cape Cod and Long Beach Island; cooking for and eating with friends; and five beautiful days in Mexico City for a fabulous family wedding.

But now fall has arrived in the northeast, and schedules are beginning to get back to normal. This past Sunday was rainy and dismal--the perfect kind of day to make soup.

I love making soup. The possiblilites are endless, and it is great to know that there is a nutritious meal or two tucked away in the freezer for nights when there is no time to cook.

Beef barley soup is a great one to start with.

Beef Barley Soup
Serves 4-6

1 lb. beef chuck (or round) cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 carrots cut into large dice
3 celery stalks cut into large dice
1 onion, minced
1/2 cup pearled barley
1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes, roughly pureed
4 cups lower-sodium beef broth
4 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown beef cubes in hot oil.Season with salt and pepper. Add carrots, celery and onion and saute for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt.

Add barley to pot and saute for about 1 minute. Add broth and water and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover pot and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add tomatoes to pot and continue to cook for about 30 minutes, until meat is tender and barley is cooked through. Season to taste.

Serve this with a loaf of crusty whole grain bread and sweet butter along with a salad of mixed greens tossed with a vinaigrette--and you'll be good to go.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Testing 1-2-3

Since my personal cheffing days, I have been on the list of home recipe testers for a national food magazine. You know the one that deconstructs all of the recipes in order to reproduce them in painstaking detail. Sometimes helpful, other times boring.

This weekend I was testing a recipe for Cacio e Pepe, that quintessential Roman pasta dish. The problem for me in testing recipes is that one must make recipes exactly as written for obvious reasons--even if you don't agree with the methods or ingredients. But I do it for fun. I certainly don't receive any remuneration--not even a subscription to the magazine or website.

So I called L and J, with whom we have shared two trips to Rome and countless bowls of pasta, and asked them to come for dinner to help me test this recipe. I prepared the recipe as written, even though the method was awkward and additional ingredients were unnecessary. But all in all the taste was good and the Frascati served with it complementary.

In my humble opinion there are only four ingredients needed to make an outstanding Cacio e Pepe. They are authentic aged pecorino romano sheep's milk cheese; fresh, coarsely ground black pepper; good quality spaghetti; and pasta water.

My Recipe for Cacio e Pepe

While bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, crush or coarsely grind 2 tablespoons fresh black peppercorns.

Ladle some hot water into your mixing/serving bowl to warm it, drain.

Cook 1 pound spaghetti until it is al dente. Lift the spaghetti from the pot with tongs or strainer and drop into the warm serving dish.

Quickly scatter about 1 cup of grated pecorino cheese over the pasta and most of the ground pepper, and toss quickly. As you toss, sprinkle in a ladle or two of hot pasta water to moisten and amalgamate all of the ingredients. You may need more water to make this happen. Add more cheese or pepper to taste.

Note: Some like to put about 1 cup of hot water in the serving dish whisking in the cheese and pepper then adding the hot pasta and tossing to coat thoroughly. Add more cheese and pepper to taste.

Serves 4 as a main dish

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Rantings of a Mad Woman

When our friend G was here for dinner the other night, he casually mentioned that he was trying to look up the grammatical rule for using a singular or plural verb with the word none. Now that may sound very boring to most--but I perked up. Unbeknownst to G is that I have an odd interest in grammar. He knows now. His research left him confused and with no real answer.

What I had learned, and always abided by, is that a singular noun takes a singular verb. A plural noun takes a plural verb. So far so good. I had also learned that the word none is singular. Not so fast. Evidently the rules have changed. What?

According to Jane Ruby at ,the writers of grammar books have finally decided to change the rule to match the way most writers and speakers use the word. They actually decided that the word none can be plural or singular in a sentence depending on the word it refers to. She says, "The way to correctly use none in a sentence today is to determine what word it is referring to, determine whether that word is plural or singular, and then make the verb plural or singular to match, like this:

None of the apples are ripe.
None of this apple is edible."

Oh no! Another example of the dumbing down of America. Look, I don't claim to have perfect grammar, but I strive to write and speak correctly. So, if I've got this right, because writers and speakers don't feel they need to follow the rule, let's change it! Makes perfect sense to me.

Well, in case all of your apples are ripe, try this wonderful recipe for Apple Crostata.

Apple Crostata adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

For The Pastry:

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 pound very cold unsalted butter, diced
2-4 tablespoons ice water

For the Filling:

1 1/2 pounds apples for baking
1/4 teaspon grated orange zest
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

For the pastry, place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 12-15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add 2 tablespoons ice water--adding more if needed-- until dough just begins to come together. Turn dough out on floured board and form a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour while you prepare filling

Preheat oven to 450.

When ready to make tart, roll pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment.

For filling, peel, core and quarter the apples. Cut each quarter into 3 chunks. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Cover the tart dough with the apple chunks, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and allspice in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly. Pour mixture into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle evenly over apples. Gently fold the border over the apples, pleating it to make a circle. (Center of tart will not be covered with dough.)

Bake the crostata for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Let the tart cool for 5 minutes, then use 2 large spatulas to transfer to wire rack to cool.

Makes 1 tart

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Day In Food

My usual breakfast of Greek yogurt, fruit, toasted walnuts and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

My lunch of sorts.

Dinner of roasted shrimp with red peppers and lemon.

And a salad.


1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Fresh thyme, to taste
4 scallions, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound peeled large shrimp
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

In large bowl, toss the bell pepper, lemon, thyme, scallions, crushed red pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet, reserving the bowl.

Add shrimp to bowl and toss with paprika and remaining tablespoon of olive oil and salt and black pepper to taste. Nestle the shrimp in the bell pepper mixture on baking sheet. Roast until shrimp are cooked through and bell peppers are tender, approximately 10 minutes. May be served over rice.
Serves 4

Broiled Shrimp on Foodista

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Day At Home

It was a busy weekend, so today it's nice to have a day at home to play catch up.

Friday night was typical for us with T&G here for pizza and martinis. We particularly liked the caramelized onion pizza sprinkled with thyme, Kalamata olives and dusted with grated Parmagiana.

On Saturday, after a long week of rain, the sun finally came out and L suggested we have a play date at the Storm King Arts Center. Storm King is a magnificent 500- acre sculpture park located one hour away in the Hudson River Valley of Orange County, NY.

Lest we should go hungry, she and J thoughtfully packed a picnic lunch. After parking near the picnic grove, we unpacked the picnic basket straight away. There were various salumi, an assortment of cheeses, olives, bread, grapes and a hearty Zinfandel. Perfect to sustain us on our way.

Walking through this park was a treat. Storm King houses a permanent collection of sculpture ranging from 1945 to the present. These massive and some not so massive works are set among the rolling hills, fields and woodlands of the Hudson River Valley. The placement of each sculpture takes maximum advantage of this setting and becomes an integral part of the overall effect. We amused ourselves while walking by trying to guess what the artist had named the sculptures. Believe me our imaginations were not challenged. For example, one huge sculptue of steel tubes was named something like Weathered Steel Tubes! You get it. It is impossible to see the entire park in one visit, and we look forward to our return.

Sunday, our son and his girlfiend came for dinner. We enjoyed a dinner of grilled loin lamb chops, roasted asparagus, grilled sweet potatoes and a tossed green salad with a shallot and sherry vinaigrette. For dessert we had a lemon ricotta cream topped with raspberries and blackberries. Nice day.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I Was Much Younger Then

I met a long-time friend for lunch the other day. If you have read this blog, you have figured out that all of my relationships have some connection to food. So it will come as no surprise to learn that I met J at a cooking class in 1977. Thirty-two years ago? My apologies to Bob Dylan, but I was so much younger then; I'm older than that now.

I am not particularly an out-going or friendly person, but J and I had an instant connection. We became fast friends and formed, for lack of a better name, a gourmet group. Four couples would get together about six times a year cooking our way through the cuisines of various countries or themes. Some of our dinners were great successes; and just a few--not so much.

There was the night we celebrated Greek cuisine. Each course incorporated phyllo dough as an ingredient. After that disaster, we began to coordinate our courses more carefully. We cooked, we laughed, we ate. And through the years we became accomplished cooks as well as good friends.

But as usual, life happens and families grow and change; new people come into our lives as others leave. After our gourmet group ended, J and I remained close friends. She even was a guest one evening at my present gourmet group. We don't see each other nearly as much as I would like, but at lunch the other day we did not lack for anything to talk about. And I vow to be better about keeping in touch. But if I'm not, I will think of J every time I make her white pizza recipe. Try it for your friends.


This makes enough topping for 2 10-12" pizzas

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large shallot
4 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. fontina or gruyere cheese, grated

Process all ingredients except cheese in food processor until paste forms. Spread on pizza dough and sprinkle with cheese. Bake.

Note: I don't usually have dried basil or parsley on hand. Topping is fine without them.

Check out this link

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Orange Squirrel

After a week on the beach with S and A, John and I thought we would eat and drink sparingly this past week. At the beginning of each week in St. Thomas, where we return each year, we walk the hills to begin our day. But by the end of the week, the only time we leave our beach chairs is to return to our apartment to eat lunch. So a large dinner out mid-week was not in our plans.

But when our friends L and J found themselves with time on their hands because of an aborted vacation trip, I knew the perfect thing to do--make dinner reservations at The Orange Squirrel.

Downtown Bloomfield is not the destination one thinks of for quality restaurant dining, but we had been hearing about The Orange Squirrel for a few months now. Hey I grew up there--but who knew that we would find a trendy 40-seat restaurant with amazing food on a main thoroughfare in Bloomfield?

The slight, unassuming chef-owner, Francesco Palmieri, was bussing his own tables that night; and until L told me who he was,I would have never known. But this boy can cook. He graduated from the CIA and did a stint at Windows on the World until September 11.

The food is amazing. We started with an amuse bouche of two tiny bites of a sublime pleated pasta filled with a savory braised lamb. The four of us went on to share an order of gnudi, fluffy pillows of poached ricotta bathed in a wild mushroom broth. Perfect. The salads were great, especially mine, a riff on Ceasar sald with endive and white anchovies--brilliant.

Our entrees included aged rib eye steak, perfectly cooked and served with chipotle butter; roasted halibut; and a veal chop Milanese. All were delicious. There was a wonderful assortment of sides dishes. We so enjoyed the polenta with mascarpone cheese and the roasted brussel sprouts with crispy pancetta. For dessert we tried the blood orange creme brulee. The intense flavor of the blood oranges in the custard as well as in the dollop of sorbet that sat on top blew us away. This was followed by a house-made Bailey's Irish cream.

The best part of the evening was that we got to share time with our best friends as we have many times before--be it in our homes, in a dive bar in Orange, NJ, with the best pizza; in a wine bar on the Piazza Pasquino in Rome; and now on Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield, NJ. Who knew?

Today is Mother's Day, and L and I are cooking for our mothers. Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Birthday

I have never been one of those people who just loves her birthday. And this birthday, being a milestone, is quite frightening. Nevertheless, J and L wanted to take J and me out to dinner to celebrate.

I don't like surprises either. But J insisted on not telling me where we were going. Great! The evening arrives, I put on my happy face, and we're off.

Cafe Matisse is a jewelbox of a restaurant in Rutherford, New Jersey with a slightly off beat but posh atmosphere. There are no courses listed on the two-page menu. The diner chooses whether he would like to have three, four, or five courses. The diner chooses the dishes, and then they are brought out one at a time in the order the chef deems. J and L brought wines that they carried back with them from a recent trip to California. All the wines were from the Carneros region. We started with a sparkling white; continued with a smooth and elegant chardonnay; then onto a cabarnet. All were perfect with our variety of dishes.

What could be better than a birthday dinner in an enchanting restaurant with great food shared with the people I love? Not much.

Tomorrow, my birthday, we leave for a week on the beach in St. Thomas with our friends S and A.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Dinner

Because Easter and Passover are almost back to back this year, just about everyone I know is preparing for a celebration. Some will have the pleasure of being guests at the table, while others will have the pleasure of hosting.

J and I have been hosting our families for Easter dinner for almost as long as we've been married. They all came when we lived in a one bedroom apartment; when we had a rambling, century-old house; and still now in our not-so-downsized condominium. This year we will be fifteen--ranging in age from 6 months to 92!

I love Easter. Maybe because it comes at the beginning of Spring and brings with it promises of starting anew. Maybe it's the gathering of family. Maybe it's the food. As a child I remember lasagna and roasted leg of lamb. But mostly I remember stealing jelly beans from my Easter basket on Easter morning and eating them on the way to church. You see, we children always gave up sweets for Lent, so by the time Easter Sunday came, we just could not restrain ourselves.

I usually start with a Mixed Antipasto that I have been making since it appeared in Gourmet in 1991--perfect for a large crowd. This year I am cooking a smoked ham with a peach-honey glaze; rigatoni with prosciutto and fontina cheese baked in a bechamel sauce; roasted asparagus; and whipped sweet potatoes.

There will be jelly beans, chocolate eggs, biscotti, lemon bars and always Aunt Louise's cheesecake--the best.

Whether you are celebrating Easter or Passover, I hope it is joyous.

Aunt Louise's Cheesecake

2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1 lb. cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs
3 T. flour
3 T. cornstarch
1 pint sour cream
3 T. white creme de cacao
1 T. vanilla
1 T. orange extract

Cream together ricotta and cream cheese. Gradually add sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and cornstarch. Mix. Add sour cream, vanilla, creme de cacao and orange extract. Mix well, and pour into a buttered 10" springform pan. Set pan in large pan of water.

Bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and let cake remain in oven for 2 hours or longer. Do not open oven door. Chill.

Although the original recipe calls for a 10" pan, I find there is too much batter. I have not had luck finding a larger pan, so I usually bake the remaining batter in an 8" springform pan.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Dinner With Wine

"Wine makes a symphony of good food." Fernande Garvin, chef

The six of us lived in the same suburban town when we were raising our children. Our friendship was forged over summer swim meets at the local swim club and convivial dinners.

We've known each other a long time so we always have a lot to talk about. During dinner at T & G's the other night our talk turned to wine. One wine in particular--a 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild!

When P's father died, he and his wife, K, purchased his family home. With that home came not only P's mother, but his father's wine cellar as well.

P has always been generous in sharing his wines with friends. This particular evening there were eight of us around their table--our "Gourmet Group" to be exact--but more about that later. There was butterflied leg of lamb on the menu, so when P perused the cellar, he thought that a Bordeaux would complement the lamb perfectly. And perfect it was.

As soon as he opened the bottle of 1982 Lafite and poured the deep ruby-red wine into our glasses, we knew that this wine was special. There are no wine experts among us, but we knew.

We were privileged to drink two bottles that night, and enjoyed every drop. We laugh now to think that then the wine was worth almost 100 times what P's father had paid for it. And I'm not sure if P knows that the wine is worth four times that now.

He had one bottle left that he and K shared with his mother. They toasted his father without whom our memorable tasting would never have been possible.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Eating With Friends 2

"I must get out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini." Robert Benchley

It's Friday, and it is pouring. But T & G will be here for dinner like clockwork. You see, there is a Martini calling our names, and there is pizza.

I can't say exactly when our Friday night Martinis and pizza became a ritual; but we've been enjoying both together on Friday nights for quite some time.

When my husband gets home from work, he puts the vodka in the freezer. He thoughtfully selects four glass from our large collection of unusual Martini glasses; he chills the glasses and skewers the olives.

All the while, I am patting out the pizza dough; assembling the toppings for the pies; and heating the pizza stone.

T & G arrive, J shakes the Martinis until his hand freezes, he pours and we toast to the end of another week before we sip the perfect Martini. And then we talk and talk about everything. Mostly now we talk about politics. I'm not sure if we rant because we are drinking Martinis or we drink Martinis because of what we rant about.

Then comes the pizza and we talk some more. At the end of most of these evenings T suggests we change our gathering from Friday night because we are all so tired at the end of the week. We all nod and know that next Friday night we'll be around the same table again.

Here is the perfect bite to go with your Martini whether it is made with vodka or gin.


30 large Italian-style green olives
1 cup all-purpose flour spread on waxed paper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup plain breadcrumbs mixed with 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano
spread on waxed paper
Vegetable oil for frying

Roll the olives in the flour, dip them in the eggs, then coat them with the breadcrumb mixture.
Heat one inch of oil in medium-size skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, fry a handful of olives at a time until they are lightly golden. Remove the olives with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and serve warm. Serves 6

Check out this link for june's write away contest.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Eating Alone

My husband is away at a conference overnight, so tonight I'll be eating alone.

I look forward to these occasional sojourns because I get to eat my favorite solo dining food--grilled cheese.

I like nothing better than biting into a sizzling, hot-off-the-griddle sandwhich oozing with melted cheese. I think tonight it will be some beautiful fontina, perhaps layered with thin slices of perfectly ripe Bartlett pear, between two slices of crusty multigrain bread. I might toss a handful of baby greens with some extra virgin olive and a drizzle of red wine vinegar--I might not.

Accompany that with a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc and a French movie with subtitles and I'm in heaven.

Eating alone never felt better.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Come back to the table

Welcome to the very first installment of my new blog. Many of us already have busy and sometimes frantic lives; but in these stressful times, it seems we are being bombarded almost hourly with new reasons to believe that the sky is falling. What better time to gather your family and friends and bring them back to the table?

Cooking dinner may not be the first thing that leaps to mind at the end of a long day. But, really, you have to eat. Let's face it, cooking at home is healthier and less expensive than eating out or grabbing take out every night. Now, I'm not saying that you have to make a five course meal every day, just a fresh, favorful and healthy one.

With whom you share your meals is just as important as the food you eat. Sitting at the table gives family and friends time to reconnect and unwind. In fact, recent studies have shown many beneficial side effects to eating together.

Over the course of this blog, I'd like to explore those benefits. I'd like to share with you what I am cooking and eating; and I'd like to know what you are cooking and eating. You'll get to know my likes and dislikes, and perhaps you'll share yours.

So join me, and come back to the table.