Thursday, August 14, 2014

One Year

It's hard to believe that it has been almost a year since our move. I was surprised that my adjustment to the change took much longer than I had expected. But we are settling in now, enjoying our new space and our new surroundings and even some of our new neighbors.There is always a breeze on our balcony, and I am astonished that the herbs, peppers and all manner of plants in pots are thriving there.

Although we are only a couple of miles from our last home and about 12 miles from New York City, it is a different world up here. Our community is built on a hill on the site of the former Essex County Penitentiary, a dubious honor at best.We back up to Hilltop Reservation, a 285 acre nature preserve that provides habitat for native wildlife and plant species. There are eight trails covering seven miles.

The preserve was built on the abandoned grounds of the former Essex Mountain Sanatorium where patients were treated for tuberculosis. The Sanatorium was built in 1907 on a large parcel of land occupied also by the Essex County Asylum for the Insane, also known as Over Brook. They both were part of the sprawling Essex County Hospital Center. Quite a pedigree, don't you agree?

Although I can do without the wild turkeys, we enjoy watching the hawks swoop and dive and the myriad birds chasing and chirping. And as we walk out of our community up the hill to the reservation we often see a beautiful blue heron taking flight from Prisoner's Pond. On the other hand,if we turn right when leaving the community we can walk right to the center of town filled with shops, restaurants and a movie theater. The perfect combination of city and country.

So, what does all this have to do with a food blog? All that walking makes one hungry.

As summer draws to an end we still have a long weekend on Cape Cod with friends to look forward to, then a trip to St. Thomas in the beginning of November. In the mean time, enjoy the rest of the summer.

Here are some of the dishes we have enjoyed this summer.

Marcella Hazan's Chicken Cacciatora

Biba Caggiano's Fried Green Olives

Radish Canapes with Black Olive Butter

Cherry Tomato Shrimp Puttanesca

Iced Coffee Ice Pops
And a couple of good reads:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Good and Evil

After a gloriously sunny weekend we awoke to a Monday morning of hard downpours and snarled traffic. I am thankful that at least we had the weekend to enjoy the sun. I sprinted across the street to begin my morning on the treadmill, but before I opened my book my mind began to wander to to-do lists of chores, activities, cooking and cleaning. Ah cleaning.
In my kitchen I have two sponges--one is the Good Sponge and one the Evil Sponge. They are both stored in the drop down drawer in front of my sink, the Good Sponge on the right and the Evil Sponge on the left. After dinner they are cleaned in the dishwasher, Good on the right, Evil on the left.

The Good Sponge is used to wash dishes, the Evil Sponge to clean. Simple, right? Throughout all of our married life my husband has refused  to grasp this concept. I say "refused" because it is a simple concept, not rocket science. Come to think of it, my husband has no problem grasping rocket science.So why the resistance? Simple. He thinks I'm nuts, so he just dismisses my reasoning, not paying any attention to what sponge he is using when.

I'm a little OCD you think. Perhaps, but at this stage of my life that is not going to change. Am I nuts, or do any of you have a Good and an Evil Sponge? Just saying.

Tell me.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Olga's Pork Chops

My friend, L, has been telling me about Olga's pork chops forever. How they are the best pork chops she has ever made, how she will never (pronounced "neva") make pork chops any other way again, how I have to try them, and then she recites the recipe. Yeah, yeah I know-- but it's a pork chop. I would nod and smile politely but I never really heard her recipe recitation, and I never cooked them. Finally one day right before she launched into the recipe recitation yet again, I politely told her not to bother because I wouldn't remember it, assuming that finally would be the end to this brow beating. But if you know L, you know it was not. She dove into her ample handbag and pulled out a blank sheet of paper and a pen and wrote the recipe out for me whether I wanted it or not. This should surprise no one because one could find almost anything in that bag. Bandage scissors anyone? The recipe sat in my to-be-tried recipe file for quite a while before I tried it.

My apologies, friend. These are the best pork chops you will ever eat.

The chops are easy to prepare, but they do take some time to cook. It's a very forgiving recipe with a lot of wiggle room. You could use any cut, thickness, or quantity of pork chops you'd like. You just need to adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

For me, the star of this dish is the caramelized onion. For two people I start with one very large onion sliced thinly. I put it to cook in some olive oil, then continue to cook the slices low and slow over medium low heat until they are soft and caramel colored--for about 30 minutes. Then I season them with salt and remove them from the skillet.
I like to use 2 center cut, bone-in pork chops about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Beat one egg. Then in a shallow bowl mix one tablespoon flour with enough plain dry breadcrumbs to coat the 2 chops. According to Olga, yes there is an Olga, you can use all breadcrumbs, all flour, or a mixture of the two. Wiggle room. Heat some olive oil in the skillet, dip each chop in the beaten egg, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, and saute in hot oil until browned on both sides.
Now you add about a cup of stock--I have used either beef or chicken--depending on how many chops you are cooking. Return the onions to the pan, cover with a lid, and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours depending on the thickness of the pork chops. I check every now and then and baste the chops with the stock. Add more water to the pan if you need to.
Now you can try the best pork chops you have ever eaten.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Fritatta

The changing sky from our balcony

I know, I know, I really need to stop whining about winter. But it is just days before April is scheduled to make its debut and it is 19 degrees. Brr. But the sunrise was beautiful and it just has to get warmer eventually, right?

On Fridays in Lent John and I don't eat meat. It is not really a sacrifice for us as many of our favorite foods don't involve meat. We can't really complain when Friday night dinners are often pizza, sushi, a piece of fish or my favorite--frittata.

Frittatas are flat, round Italian omelets that are quick and easy to make. And did I mention delicious?You could use your favorite vegetables in a frittata or use whatever bits and bobs are left in the fridge  at the end of the week. Frittatas are very forgiving and eggs the perfect backdrop for all manner of ingredients. Think ham and asparagus or bacon and onion or ricotta and spinach or potatoes and onions.

Making a frittata is much like making a risotto.Once you've mastered the method there are no limits.


 My Ricotta Frittata

6 eggs
4 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
olive oil to coat bottom of 10" skillet
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
2-3 handfuls baby spinach, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix eggs with milk, grated cheese, and ricotta. Set aside.

Film the bottom of a 10" skillet with olive oil. Saute red peppers and onions over medium heat until they begin to soften and take on a bit of color. Add spinach to pan and saute mixture until spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in pan with vegetables. When butter begins to foam pour egg mixture over vegetables in pan distributing evenly.  

Cook over medium-low heat shaking pan and pulling frittata away from sides of pan so that the uncooked liquid flows to the bottom. Cook until eggs begin to set.

Transfer skillet to 350 degree oven and finish cooking for 5-10 minutes until eggs are set.

Along with a green salad this frittata serves two generously, perhaps with a couple of slices left over for breakfast.
Have a good weekend everyone, and cook something good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dinner Tonight

The temperature is 28 degrees and much too cold to be greeting a long awaited Spring. I enjoy the hearty comforting foods of winter as much as the next gal. But enough is enough, and I look forward to embracing the bright and fresh flavors of warmer weather.

But for tonight, hopefully one last time, I will be making a hearty soup filled with goodness. Barley and white beans mingle in a tasty chicken broth topped off with ribbons of  hearty escarole. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese and serve it forth one last time before Spring.

Barley, Bean and Escarole Soup

Adapted from a recipe from Eat This Poem
4 servings

1 medium onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1/2 cup barley
Salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups chicken stock plus 2 cups water
1 small head escarole, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
Parmesan cheese for serving

 Add onion, fennel, carrot, celery and garlic into bowl of food processor and pulse until finely chopped. In a large pot heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the barley and cook, stirring often, until the grains are slightly browned, about 3 minutes.

Add the chopped vegetables to the barley and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook until the tomato paste is well incorporated.

Pour the broth into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the barley is tender, 20 to 40 forty minutes.  Stir in the escarole and beans and cook, uncovered, until the escarole has wilted and the beans have warmed through.

Cook's Note:  If the barley has absorbed too much liquid, just add a bit more water to the soup when you stir in the escarole and beans.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014



One of the  daily writing prompts this month from Write Alm is "return." It  made me think that this may be the right time for me to return to this space.

The longer I stayed away from writing, the harder it became to write. It became easy to think I had nothing to say. My head was spinning from multiple major life changes and my thoughts were not cohesive. I was having a hard time adapting to all the changes.

When John changed his job, I lost mine because I had been working for him. Downsizing for our new home was both liberating and stressful. Packing, moving and furnishing a new home was both exciting and exhausting. Adapting to communal living was eye opening. And losing my mother at age 97 two weeks before we moved was overwhelming.

I am not complaining, just explaining. When I started writing this blog, five years ago this month, I wanted to encourage people to come back to the table. To take some time out at the end of the day to breathe, to cook and to share time with those you love.

Well, here are some of the dishes I have been cooking--

 Sesame Honeyed Almonds and Peppered Pecans

Winter Cauliflower Salad by Domenica Marchetti

Chicken Breast with Goat Cheese, Arugula and Lemon by Joanne Weir

So things are looking up, and they say Spring is just around the corner. The way I see it is that if choosing the perfect tile for the backsplash in my kitchen is my most difficult problem, and if I can look at the gorgeous sunrise pictured above as I cross the road to the gym in the morning and gaze at the beautiful sunset pictured below while I'm making dinner,well, then life is pretty good.

What has everyone else been cooking?