Tuesday, June 21, 2011

why a sink full of dishes is an absolute delight

              Change is in the air on this first official day of summer. Tonight in the kitchen where I spend this evening chopping just ripened tomatoes, I consider how of late, the only smell that's permeated from this little apartment has derived more so from takeout. Tonight however, my counter space is littered with cutting boards and leftover shreds of carrot. Tonight, a sink full of dishes is an absolute delight.
            Acutely aware of my misshapen state, the state which has prevented me from basting, sautéing, grilling, and roasting lately, I welcome the feeling of drizzling olive oil in a sauce pan once again and of adjusting the burner heat so as not to sever the garlic before it can melt into the kale and celery. Tonight’s dinner is a labor of love. I have nowhere to be and plenty of time to feel under the weather but resilient, and so I return to the single recipe, which feels effortless and filling without prompting a wardrobe change brought on by the overindulgence of heavier ingredients. This lighter Tuscan bean soup (the recipe is included in a post I published back in March), while albeit strange to some who might question why anyone would crave a hotter item in hotter weather, satisfies my craving for something hearty and haphazard. This recipe boils down to a science of its own – asking only that enough attention is paid to cooking the cannellini separately before submerging it in a neighboring pot bubbling with chicken stock.

            And so tonight’s soup is about recreating a favorite dish regardless of the temperature. It’s about setting time aside to cook and be content with your own company. It's about enjoying the simple pleasures of loading a dishwasher and ladling that second helping of sinless delight.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cut the Cheese (out)

         In light of my lactose intolerant stomach, I am cutting the cheese (out) of my diet. It does not stop there though, this endeavor suggested to me by a very dear friend of my families’ who also happens to be a physician, insists that this hiatus include all dairy, period. This means my breakfast can no longer consist of cereal and creamer crazed coffee with a side of Dannon, can no longer involve unflattering helpings of cheddar or gorgonzola atop my iceberg and radicchio respectively at the salad bar, but worse yet still is the parting from my mozzarella (such sweet sorrow).

       Its been three days and already I admit I’ve succumbed twice, well, there was that slice of Alpine Lace I stole from the cold cut spread Saturday night, so more than twice thanks to last night’s pepperoni pizza purchase I inhaled on the couch alongside my Entourage watching comrade. I did however manage to throw out the yogurt whose perforation I subconsciously peeled away at 7 a.m. on Sunday before quickly realizing I could not partake in my usual post run regiment. It hits me like a ton of bricks then that my morning routine clearly needs reevaluation.

       This gets me thinking – am I expected to eat croissants and pretzels and Panini bread for the next week or so while the doc and I test run his theory that dairy is complicating my already sensitive and predisposed enzyme inefficiencies? Surely this little experiment the doc has me committed to really is negotiable because even the doc knows that lettuce does not leap out of a plastic container if it’s not tossed with the right vinaigrette and mild Monterey Day three. The slip ups already amount to a full day’s worth of cheesy intake. We shall see but the future looks bleak for those whose diets center on things named Pecorino, Provolone, or Mascarpone. I am feeling Bleu just writing this.  

Once again there will be no pictures because I cannot keep my craving in the house. Yes, it’s really come to this point.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Broccolo, my new best friend; sorry Pizza

                I personally think you need to know someone for a considerable amount of time before you’ll allow them to happen upon you and a dish of half eaten cavatelli and broccoli. Stay tuned for explanation. Perhaps your cavatelli and broccoli gentle reader involves a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a commitment to watch Gone with the Wind in one sitting, but regardless, this was one such time. I adore you Bill, but we’re just not quite there yet. Blame Vito’s.
                Last night while I trekked uptown enjoying this unbelievable weather which is unbelievably uncanny in light of the rain sodden afternoons we’ve been weathering lately, I sprinted into Vito’s deli conscious of the good fortune I have of living in a town where a place like Vito’s remains open well after 5 p.m. Inside, the “mutz” boys (much to my chagrin), let me down easy; no more rabe. I was too late. The early bird always gets the damn worm.
                Technically it’s too hot to be craving a heavier pasta dish like cavatelli – with its flour pasta and not-so-subtle helping of garlic and oil, but when you have a hankering, you have a hankering and I was still making amends with myself for having passed on the homemade cavatelli I saw next to the sausage and peppers at the Italian Festival South Philly hosted two weeks ago. I’d been too busy stuffing my face with tomato pie to notice the rabe when it was right there for the taking, well for the purchasing.
                I made eyes with the container then though, and the rest is history as they say. Homemade cavatelli and broccoli sitting in the corner – don’t the boys at Vito’s know better than to put baby in the corner? Patrick Swayze did. I do too. I paid the “mutz” men in what remains to be seen as one of the single best investments I’ve made since my relocation to Hoboken, and walked out of the store beaming – I was going to eat this “too heavy” cavatelli and I was not leaving from the table until I’d finished every last branch.
                Tonight in preparation of yet another Wednesday installment of how to learn Italian with a bunch of English speaking New Yorkers, I frantically rubbed soap and hot water on my crème colored skirt that now houses an unholy helping of leftover oil from the makeshift plate I made out of the container’s lid; a real triumph for the oil since I hardly came up for air in between bites. At this point my colleague and dear friend Bill emailed me to ask why I was still at my desk. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was stuffing my face so I did what any level-headed female would do who is in a relationship with food that she doesn’t want discovered – I told him in no uncertain terms was he to come down to the 4th floor, not now, not ever when there’s cavatelli present.  I didn’t want him to see me this way. I could not let him see me drenched in olive oil with the stupidest grin on my face, sitting beside what once was an entire dish of homemade cavatelli. My hesitance rooted in the fact that I personally think you need to know someone for a good amount of time before you’ll allow them to find you curled up in your cubby, your skirt a mess, your dish completely empty, and you in a “please don’t resuscitate” me kind of food induced coma.
There are no pictures to document this. Gentle reader you know why.   

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pizza; a girl's best friend

             There are days I am hungrier than others. On those days in which I crave comfortable clothes and a day off from work, I am not necessarily looking to plunge fork first into a prime rib cooked to medium perfection. Instead, I want only to pick at fresh hummus and pita, or to do the socially unacceptable thing my mother cringes at the idea of and eat ice cream and only ice cream for dinner.
            With these last few weeks for the most part behind me, I am regaining an appetite. Because of the past few weeks I understand that mealtimes can be extremely healing, especially when such weekends involve South Philly’s annual Italian Festival and overcast...
            On the crowded corner of 9th and Christian on Sunday, I shimmied to Dean Martin in between bites of my two-dollar slice from Lorenzo’s. A casual bystander might have encountered the two of us, my slice and I, and mistaken it for my last meal. This casual observer on Sunday beheld quite a scene; a day of misgivings and malnourishment swiftly revived with every bite of Lorenzo’s heartwarming and heartburn-inducing slice. Far be it from me to venture to the festival for helpings of homemade broccoli rabbe, sausage and peppers, and penne like everyone else, which sat idle in their trays while my foodie friends and I indulged what we perceived to be “human” bites of Lorenzo’s tomato pie because it was my first Sunday “back” from my freakish departure from my usual bouts with overindulgence and sheer foodie late-night dining in light of my recent personal and professional preoccupations.    
            It hit me on Sunday also that pizza heals late-night stoopers, day old cramps, helps to overcome breakups, and most recently chronic anxiety. Never an expensive date, pizza blends with a bottle of wine or easily transitions amidst a six-pack of a local brew like none other because it’s a girl’s best friend. In South Philly this weekend my best friend and I shimmied down Christian street like two fools in love, and my faith in food is and was restored instantly.

            Not to be outdone, I abandoned Lorenzo’s only momentarily to slip a five to a woman dressed like a baker who suggested I try the St. Joe’s cake; a delicate blend of ricotta cheese and zeppoli crust. Back at the corner closest to the DJ, I dug my plastic fork into the doily encasing my soft cheese sponge cake, smiling and singing Italian classics I remember fondly from my childhood, while all around me families sat eating, talking, laughing and ducking underneath awnings whenever the rain looked like it wanted to join in on the festivities for a bit. Luckily, we managed to have our cake and eat it without finding ourselves hovered underneath some unsuspecting neighbor’s front door, and luckily my love for food prevailed in spite of  a string of former pizza-less evenings.

Monday, May 2, 2011

hankering for a little piece of Southern comfort

            Fresh off the plane from Austin, tonight this Yankee had a big ol’ hankering for a little piece of Southern comfort. For the last three nights, I’ve eaten what the likes of Paula Dean fans cook regularly – chicken fried steak, collard greens and Mexican that rivals what’s actually being served south of our border. Somehow waltzing down Washington toward 12th, I couldn’t bring myself to sauté a Purdue chicken breast. Tom Petty said it best when he acted as my su chef - you don’t know how it feels to want to eat that which you can’t replicate. My remedy for tonight’s “homesickness” consisted of butter, bread, and Campbell’s.
            My best friend who less than a year ago moved to Rhode Island raved about the grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup her mom prepared for her when we were in high school. Admittedly, whenever Kate talked about these favorite lunches, the pairing seemed strange. Living in a house where olive oil was a staple, the heartwarming coziness of the cheesy bread was lost on my father’s birth certificate, and Nonna’s handmade gnocchi. Tonight though, armed with a box of cheez-it(s), I dipped, slurped, and savored.
            My playlist continued churning out feel good melodies, except that when the boss intoned about the streets of Philadelphia, I pictured “the legendary” Pappasito’s Cantina where only twenty-four hours ago, I satisfied my bottomless pit status with a platter of pork and cheese enchiladas. Suddenly my nostalgia for the city of brotherly love and what I thought had been my unparalleled relationship with Cuban food was compromised. Its nothing personal Bruce, you just don’t know how it feels to get introduced to a cuisine like Tex Mex only to return to chains like Qdoba on your quainter city’s corner.

            To go from eating chicken fried steak and homemade grits (even if the grits were a coronary waiting to happen), to entertaining the idea of settling for a fresh little tomato and mozzarella Panini felt absurd as I hauled my carry on up to my third floor digs. Tonight I spooned the Campbell’s soup into my hand painted soup bowls and toasted to Texas. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

buonasaera bistecca

            Buonasera bistecca. You should’ve seen my face dear reader, as I submerged the $4 King’s sirloin into the Extra Virgin Oil drizzled across a heavy duty paper plate. Oglio I whispered to myself, practicing,
enjoying the sound of Italian in my little 3rd floor kitchen. Reminiscing about the night before, where I’d attended my first round of Beginner’s Italian, my professor Sabina had silenced her “g” so that her “l” (s) rolled right off of her Italian-born tongue, prominent and perfect. Oglio, I mouthed again, making eyes at the breadcrumbs in the cabinet left haphazardly open above the stove. Broken Italian was one thing but where would this steak dinner be tonight without its beloved friend breadcrumbs?

            I made one of my absolute all-time favorite dinners tonight, steak with oil, breadcrumbs, and beefsteak tomatoes. It’s semplice (simple) as the Italians say, but to-die for nevertheless, and what’s more, this semplice dinner requires very little preparation. As a kid, countless times I watched my dad whip it up on a whim, the aroma of the yellow onion sautéing in an itty bitty skillet made more alluring by the promise of whatever veggie might accompany it. Mushrooms in a Santa Margherita “sauce,” with a pinch of salt and pepper and generous oil base paired effortlessly with the bistecca. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Short-grain vs. cereal grain and the quest for the perfect risotto

             I like rice. I like rice more than most, so much so that I once told someone during our first date when probed that my favorite food is rice. Admittedly not exactly your run of the mill answer, and yet in the rice’s defense, it’s not exactly your everyday starch either. I still taste the subtle hint of light cream and crisp, fruit-focused Château St. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc pairing from tonight’s risotto romance.
             In the living room of my aunt’s house not too long ago, TV’s Lidia Bastianich hosted an episode on her show Lidia’s Italy in which she substituted Arborio rice for barley. Food writer extraordinaire Tenaya Darlington and I discuss over cappuccino on a Saturday the difference in consistency Lidia’s dish proposes.
            Madame Fromage, http://madamefromage.blogspot.com/ suggests that barley possesses a flavorful characteristic worth advocating in favor of. After poking around certain websites, I find out that barley isn't all bad. For one, it containts eight essential amino acids, even if it does goes against a "foodie's" predisposed disposition to cook up a delicate risotto with minced onion prepared to an al dente perfection.

            Tonight I chicken out of my willingness to substitute my beloved rice. With chicken broth and dry white wine, I execute a recipe I know all too well with a little help from my friends Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman, whose cookbook Risotto: more than 120 recipes for the classic dish of northern italy, has become a staple in my Hoboken nook.

            The recipe Risotto con piselli, masterfully mingles sweet and dry so that your palette experiences a kind of comfort food conveyed through the creamy finish - compliments of the recipe’s inclusion of light cream. Tonight my fork nestles in my bowl, just as eager as I to put away this rice’s, firm, creamy, and chewy texture due to the higher amylopectin starch content.

Perhaps in the near future I will abandon my apprehension for barley and give it a go Tenaya!

Risotto con piselli

condimenti: 1 tbsp unsalted butter
                      1 cup of defrosted peas, not cooked
                      1/4 cup of light cream
                      1/3 cup of grated parmesan

brodo:          5 cups basic broth
                     1/2 cup of dry white wine

soffritto:       2 tbsp unsalted butter
                     1 tbsp oil
                     1/3 cup of minced onion
                     1 celery rib, finely minced

riso:             1 1/2 cups of arborio rice

- heat the butter in a small skillet over moderate heat. when it
begins to foam, add the peas and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring
occasionally. turn off heath and set aside.

- bring the broth to a steady boil.

- heat the butter and oil in a heavy 4-quart casserole dish over
moderate heat. add the onion and celery and saute for 1 to 2min, until
the onion begins to soften, being careful not to brown it.

- add the rice to the soffritto; using a wooden spoon, stir for 1min.
add the wine and stir until completely absorbed. begin to add the
simmering broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently. wait until
each addition is completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup,
reserving about 1/4 cup to add at the end. ***
stir frequently to prevent sticking ***.

- after approx. 15min, when the rice is tender but still firm, add the
reserved broth and condimenti - peas,  cream, and parmesan, and stir
vigorously to combine with the rice.

- serve immediately* serves 4.