Posted on June 20, 2010
Sometimes the most delectable meals are the simplest. Yesterday I spent some quality time with an old, dear friend and her sweet little girl, and after a day of lazy play, fighting off imaginary bears, and watching Dora the Explorer, I decided to fix the girls one of my favorite dishes — whole wheat pesto pasta.
If you have an aversion to whole wheat pasta, you’re insane in the membrane. I adore whole wheat because it’s nuttiness and boldness can stand up to heady, unctuous sauces. And while it may not compliment a white sauce, I adore hearty red sauces, spicy sausage and peppery pesto with whole wheat. Check out my whip-quick pasta recipe, which can be fixed in under 30 minutes!
1 lb of whole wheat rigatoni or penne
2 cups of basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup pine nuts toasted (seared on hot, ungreased skillet until brown and fragrant), divided in 1/2
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of pecorino romano cheese
2 fat cloves of garlic
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup of pasta water
Boil salted water. Nigella Lawson always says that your pasta water should remind you of the Mediterranean. Add the pasta to boiling water and stir. Cook until al dente (1-2 minutes less than what the package calls).
In a food processor add the basil leaves, cheese, garlic and 1/4 cup of pine nuts and pulse until chunky. Slowly add the olive oil until the pesto is verdant and luscious and creamy.
Drain the cooked pasta and set aside 1/3 cup of water. Add the pesto to the pasta and stir. Should your pasta be a tad dry add the starchy water, which will create a creamy sauce.
Posted on June 19, 2010
Yesterday, I was witness to a love that did not bend of alter. A dear friend of mine shared her most magical moment with me — her wedding day — and as the swirl of bodies danced to DJ music, smoke, lilies, and sloe gin buzz rendered the evening fragrant and sweet, I longed for my own fairytale moment.
The day after we slipped into a revered sleepy haunt, Dish ‘N Dat. Located in Canton, Connecticut (with a locale in West Hartford), this is our go-to spot for brunch and yummy eats. From the retro decor (check out the spoon display up front!) to the open, airy space, this is perfection for a friend-gathering spot and ideal for the kids. After chowing on pancakes, burgers, arugula salads fixed with dried fruit, fresh strawberries and champagne vinaigrette, I’ve determined that this place is incapable of dishing out a paltry meal. What I adore most? The tater tots. I know, sacrilege for a foodie, but this sinful indulgence harkens back to college Saturdays where tots and hot cakes smothered in syrup were the defacto items on the menu.
Posted on June 14, 2010
A life without pasta is simply a life not worth living. If you pulled that deserted island card trick on me as it pertains to food, I would, without hesitation, shout pasta. Cracked pepper and pecorino cheese, velvety alfredo, arugula and pistachio pesto, and mouth-savoring meatballs — dressing up provides you with endless options. And although I grew up eating wretched puff pillow Chef Boyardee raviolis, Hamburger Helper lasagna, Kraft Mac & Cheese out of a box, and buttered egg noodles, my affection for the Italian mainstay has not abated.
Today I slipped into Chicca Restaurant in Soho with an hour to kill before my blowout. Chicca, which translates to “special little things” in Italian, serves up authentic Roman fare in an open, airy setting. Sidewalk seating, local and organic fare, and friendly service pale in comparison to the delicious food. Rarely do I order a meatball dish for I am always disappointed. Either they’re tough or missing that delicate, yet exquisite balance of flavor between seasoning, breading and meat. At Chicca, I dined on flavorful bite-sized meatballs and mini rigatoni. Believe me when I say that I Dyson’d my dish in under five minutes, flat.
Can we back up for a moment? I neglected to discuss the BREAD BASKET. How could I even forget the BREAD BASKET. You guys know how I feel about a bread basket. Typically one would find a stale lump of coal wrapped in a dirty towel, however, the bread at Chicca is fresh, hearty and perfection paired with softened butter.
So if you’re in the Soho area, and are aching for delicious Italian fare (their pizzas are epic), I implore you to check out Chicca.
Posted on June 12, 2010
There are days when I have lofty dreams — I’m perched on a swing-set overlooking a verdant field. Rows of blueberries, strawberries and delicious fruit rise up from the earth. Sometimes I remain longer in this fiction, and I pluck blackberries from leaves and bake a pie that cools on a sill. Gossamer curtains lifting. But then I wake up and wonder how I can recreate this idyll in an apartment I don’t love, with fruits store-bought.
This morning I woke early and decided to bake myself a delicious blackberry crumb cake from a recipe I tore out from the latest Real Simple magazine. It’s the simplest cake ever, and requires very little futzing in the kitchen. You just have to linger and cope with the luscious cinnamon scent that will inevitably swell and perfume.
INGREDIENTS: FOR THE CRUMB TOPPING
1/2 cup pecans
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour, spooned and leveled
2 tbsp cold, unsalted butter
FOR THE CAKE
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour, spooned and leveled
1 cup cane sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2-3 cups of fresh blackberries
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
For the crumb topping: In a food processor, pulse the pecans, brown sugar, flour, and butter until you yield small crumbs; transfer to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the food processor.
For the cake: Butter an 8-inch square (I used round, because, for the life of me I can’t locate my square pan, which is presently giving me VERTIGO). In the food processor, pulse the butter, flour, sugar (you can use granulated, but WHY WOULD YOU?), baking powder (this is NOT the same as baking soda, so don’t make that cruel mistake), salt, and cinnamon until crumbly. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture slowly and mix until just combined. This is important — adding your dry mixture to wet, not vice-versa, as your cake will resemble a hockey puck.
Transfer the cake batter evenly to the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the blackberries and crumb topping. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55-60 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan before serving.
Now I know what you’re thinking. It’s a hot to trot cake and you just want to eat it with your coffee already. I made this sad error in judgment years ago; I didn’t allow the cake to adhere and when I turned it out onto a rack, it collapsed into a cake mountain. I screamed. I possibly kicked a cabinet. I held my cat close. Don’t follow in my impatient footsteps. Wait for the damn cake to cool. Read a magazine, watch One Tree Hill, etc.
Posted on June 9, 2010
Let me be blunt: La Pizza Fresca Ristorante is downright biblical. My revered haunt for over a decade, I stumbled upon this hidden culinary gem when I was wide-eyed, launching ecommerce sites and using dial-up modems, and have been its patron every since. Those were the halcyon days where I had no problem kicking back with two bottles of wine and hours of conversation on a weeknight, when their evening air is crisp and delicious and you yearn for a gossamer shawl and gauzy scarf. Those were the days of first loves and date firsts and dessert was always, ALWAYS, an option.
I’m a little older now and haven’t time for those evening until dawn dinners, but my affection for La Pizza Fresca has not abated. A stellar wine list, warm fresh bed nestled in a wicker basket, the mouth-watering appetizers (figs sauteed in a balsamic reduction, wrapped in prosciutto!!!), the brick-oven pizza, which is a wisp of a thing, and the fresh pastas will keep you coming back.
I introduced my favorite eatery (this is indeed my favorite in all of New York city, which I realize is a BOLD statement) to the gals last night, and from the peppery arugula salads topped with shaved parmesan to the very delicate pesto pasta (1/2 servings!) served with fresh cracked pepper to the unctuous molten cakes and super-light whipped chocolate mousses and dreamy tiramisu, we were satiated and giddy.
So if you’re seeking fresh Italian fare, fine wine, and epic sweets, I implore you to check out La Pizza Fresca.
Posted on June 6, 2010
Sometimes, some of the sweetest memories are formed in those secret, tucked-away spots, the places with a sleepy vibe, handwritten menus, and time. Time to fill the afternoon with conversation and raucous laughter. While brunch is usually an excuse to get trashed on grain alcohol and consume copious amounts of starch, over the years I’ve managed to find places with a sloe gin vibe minus the spirits.
Today I had the great pleasure of meeting the luminous Patrice of Afrobella. To say that Patrice is magical would be an understatement. Her fiery curls, turquoise dress and enveloping warmth make her easy to spot a block away. Patrice is that shining ember you want to cleave to — her energy is that vibrant and her sense of self that profound. So when she selected a laidback locale for serious chowing and conversation, I knew that this fox was the real shebang.
A hidden jewel located on Chicago’s South Loop, Little Branch Cafe serves up homemade sweets and simple, delicious eats. Enjoy a lean menu of soups, sandwiches and salads full on flavor, while the staff is attitude-free. Apparently, the buzz about town is that the mascarpone-stuffed brioche French toast is the brunch item to beat.
Since I had Dyson’d a Belgian waffle for breakfast, I settled on a bacon and arugula sandwich, layered with fig jam and shaved parmesan. Paired with unlimited coffee and blood orange soda, I nearly passed out from all the deliciousness. The flavorings were simple and smart, and the service lightening-fast.
And after chatting hair, body image, blogs and books, Patrice and I slipped inside and indulged in a little homemade gelato. Seriously, if you live in Chicago, you NEED TO CONSUME THIS GELATO. There’s no helping you otherwise.
What I loved the most about my brunch at Little Branch will surprise you. One of the counter staff relayed, with pride, that he had baked a great deal of the desserts himself, notably, the cupcakes. And the immense pride in his voice when he told me this made me fall in love with baking all over again.
Posted on June 5, 2010
After an alarm ringing at dawn, when the air is still damp and the greenery, yielding, I hauled two laptops and very little luggage to the airport. I’m in Chicago for a client event this weekend, and while the day started off a little bumpy (thundershowers and traffic, anyone?), there were glimpses of triumph — a spicy, tender sausage encased in velvety cheese on a thin, crisp crust, after an epic Givenchy score — that made the day a complete and utter win.
Minor digression: every time I pass the Drake Hotel, I remember the summer before my senior year, and how I spied Princess Diana coming out of the hotel in a purple dress, and the day later when I had to fly home because my mother had abandoned us. Chicago will always be marked by these two moments. Always.
And while The Magnificent Mile deserves the more apt moniker, The MIRACLE Mile, let’s first bask in the glory that is Chicago pizza — the, SHOCK!, thin-crust variety. Located in the thick of downtown Chicago, just shy of N. Michigan Avenue is the contemporary American steakhouse, Tavern on Rush. Home to a U-shaped bar, great chow (some of the reviews are interesting to read, in retrospect), and an expansive outdoor patio, Tavern on Rush was made for people-gawking. But the food!
After a lightly dressed mixed green salad covered in creamy gorgonzola cheese (I did have to nix some of the cheese, as it was a tad excessive), the brick oven pizza was everything a woman could want out of a pizza, and more. A paper-thin, char crust serves as a bed for a light layer of fresh cheese and sauce that doesn’t distract from the star attraction: THE HOUSE-MADE SAUSAGE. Sweet Italian sausage and fresh herbs made each and every slice sing, and I left stuffed and pleased with the impeccable service.
I’m not certain if this is a tourist trap, and I’m not into a scene or meeting models, but I got a seat pretty quickly, my service was great and food, fabulous. Highly recommended.
Posted on June 2, 2010
I’m the kind of foodie who traipses around the city in four-inch stilettos sampling the fare from the latest “hotspots.” I don’t keep record of chef-owned restaurants, and I certainly don’t live and die by the Zagat review. Simply put, I care less about the haute factor than I do about the delish factor. Some of my favorite spots are nondescript and off-the-radar.
Case in point: Dizzy’s: A Finer Diner in Brooklyn. Dizzy’s is one of my favorite diners in THE WORLD. Located smack in the middle of stroller-mom-infested Park Slope, Dizzy’s offers AMAZING food at great prices. From epic cheeseburgers (the fries alone will make you howl) to grilled chicken salads to pasta tossed with sausage in a velvety cream sauce to their EPIC brunches, Dizzy’s never missteps. There is never a false note, a fouled flapjack, a solemn grilled cheese. I’ve been a patron for over four years, and I’ve put up with the cash-only nonsense and the sometimes overcrowding just to chow down on their pancakes and eggs scrambled to perfection.
So if you’re new to the Slope or making a trip out to the Park this summer, definitely check out Dizzy’s.
Posted on June 1, 2010
Break out the Crisco, friends, because a woman on a cookie mission is wading her way through. Having earned rave reviews from The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time Out New York, Village Tart offers serious baked treats, yummy eats, and coffee brewed to perfection. If you’re simply seeking a caffeine fix, Tart offers Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, as well as guest coffees from various artisanal roasters brewed-to-order either on a French press or via drip. From heady coffee to sweetened strawberry hibiscus tea, you’ll find a bevy of beverages to pair with Tart’s uncomplicated, heavenly fare.
Yesterday, I popped in after a long day of viewing art and wandering the hot city, and settled on a hot press sandwich (mozzarella, basil and pesto) with a side of elegantly dressed arugula. As you may have learned from my Savannah trip, I cruelly judge a restaurant by the bread they serve, and suffice to say, Village Tart passed my test. The baguette was fresh, crisp, and the perfect vehicle for the luscious, lightly seasoned cheese. The pesto? UNBELIEVABLE.
And then there were the desserts. I’m told the crown jewel is the carrot cake smothered in frosting, however, a woman can never deny herself a piece of maple nut coffee cake paired with strong coffee. All sweets are baked on the premises, and I only wish I had time to sample EVERYTHING. The mandarin glaze on the orange pound cake had me thinking of Seville, and the chocolate mousse cake would bring tears to any chocolate-lover’s eyes.
From the delightful service to the chic ambience, to the scrumptious food, ignore the fact that Village Tart is located smack in the middle of sub-par Italian food and tourist traps, and race in for some sweet tea and tarts on tap.
Posted on May 29, 2010
In Rome I was a nomad. I’d wake early and find my way to the nearest cafe, and, for the remainder of my day I would sample, taste, savor and indulge in delicately-flavored, delicious Northern Italian food. Amidst the seemingly endless amounts of gelato and sausage and fennel pizzas, it was the simplicity of the pasta dishes that left me awe-struck. From fresh tomatoes imported from nearby Naples to verdant mint and astringent lemons, believe me when I say that the Italian food to which we’ve become accustomed is a stranger in Rome.
One of my favorite dishes as cacio e pepe. Simply put, this is pasta tossed with cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Deceptively simple yet unbelievably delicious, it has been hard to recreate the perfection I discovered in Rome, but tonight I gave it a go and added a touch of crisp pancetta for good measure.
INGREDIENTS (serves two)
3/4 pound of penne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper (adjust to your taste)
a bit of the pasta cooking liquid (about 1/4 to 1/2 of a ladel-full)
1/2 cup of freshly ground pecorino romano
1/2 cup freshly ground parmigiano reggiano
1/4 pound of pancetta, cubed
Bring salted water to a boil. Nigella Lawson once said that your pasta water should resemble the Mediterranean, and I’ve always kept this axiom in mind when making pasta. I typically add in a few tablespoons to a medium-bowling pot.
Saute cubed pancetta in a skillet brushed with olive oil, until crisp. Set aside.
Cook the penne until al dente (or two minutes less than the package instructions). Add pasta to the pancetta skillet. Toss in cheese, butter, oil, some of the pasta water, and cracked pepper.
Posted on May 28, 2010
Consider me a creature of culinary habit. Once I find a eatery worth patroning, I become addicted to it. Typically, it’ll take a crowbar and some Crisco to pry me away from one restaurant in an effort to try another.
I’ve been dining at Appertivo for the past two years, and I am positively and utterly addicted to their fresh linguine pasta with pesto topped with char-grilled chicken. Mind you, I also adore their brunch, where wholesome, multi-grain pancakes are sold amidst crisp turkey bacon and to-die-for home fries, are served. But the crown jewel is solely reserved for their Italian fare. Affordable (most dishes are under $10, and come with a glass of wine), delicious food, quick and friendly service, and an airy, open ambiance make Appertivo one of my preferred Brooklyn eateries.