all about the noodle!

pancetta & rigatoni Last week, on a business lunch, I had the pleasure of dining in one of my favorite midtown eateries, Il Gattopardo. Simply put, their pasta dishes are utter perfection and I found myself savoring every bite (I’m been told that I’m the quickest eater going) of the cracked pepper rigatoni with pancetta. Truth be told, every dish can be improved upon with cured bacon fat. Pancetta on a Snickers bar? Absolutely. Pancetta on flapjacks? Naturally. Pancetta-topped ice-cream? You betcha. Frequently, I use the salt-cured bacon as a base for soups, and as a flavoring agent in most of my chicken and pasta dishes. The heady saltiness of the pecorino cheese & bacon juxtaposed against the bite of cracked peppercorns was a gastronomic delight, and I left the restaurant fully aware that I’ve secured a favorite haunt. And the best part? My lunch was a simple dish that could be easily replicated by the home cook (how rare!!).

After a tough week which included an emergency room visit and a decision to pare down my project workload, I went back to basics. To what is familiar and comforting: cooking in the kitchen. This weekend, it was all about the noodle. Tossing together al dente pasta (1 1/2 cup uncooked pasta), cracked pepper (1/2 tbsp), pecorino romano cheese (3 tbsp) and small diced chunks of sautéed pork (1/4 cup) – Saturday evening dinner was easy breezy. In preparation for dinner for two with a sweet friend, I’ve prepared the fan favorite: butternut squash lasagna replete with crushed amaretti cookies, to be served with an arugula salad with shallot vinaigrette & loaves of french bread and creamed butter. Because it’s no fun pulling your hair out over dishes you can’t easily prepare in advance.

happy thanksgiving!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin LoafLast year I spent Thanksgiving wretching in the bathroom due to a nasty food allergy. This year, I’m bringing my pop to a friend’s pot-luck party. I adore pot-luck – delish food without all the holiday madness! I’m off until early next week, friends – enjoy & manga!

My Pot for the Pot-Luck:
Nigella’s Butternut Squash with Pecans and Blue Cheese
And my favorite: Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Loaf (although I’m now using chopped dark chocolate)

Oh, wait! I’m making this too….YUM.

got a sledgehammer? time to hit the piggy for these cookbooks…

Whether you’re purchasing your first or your 40th cookbook, the cookbook section of your local bookstore can inspire feelings of vertigo–-the seemingly infinite choices! The cute pictures! The foxy chefs! Oh my! Great tomes with dozens of glossy pages displaying velvety trifles, grilled flank steaks and burgundy risottos might cause the novice to shriek: could I really cook any of this? While the budding foodie might wonder if their local gourmet shop carries agave nectar.

From Middle Eastern fare to convenience cooking, over the past 20 years chefs have offered the home cook everything from culinary passports to their favorite exotic locales to shortcuts in the kitchen. So whether you want to grill a hot dog or perfect your pear strudel, one needs easy tips which will help you navigate the dizzying array of cookbook options.

I receive many emails from novice cooks asking me two things: what cookbooks should I buy & what are your favorites? Granted, I’m not a trained chef, a highfalutin food blogger or someone with fancy cookware (still rocking out with T-Fal and a few choice Le Cruset pieces – gifts I tell you!!), but I’m a home cook, just trying to figure out how to entertain on a budget using local and clean food. I’m in the trenches. After the jump, I offer five easy tips on how to purchase a cookbook and my top five cookbook mainstays (just five!! oy). Granted, there are tons of tomes that chefs will rhapsodize over (Nigel Slater, Patricia Wells and the great Bouchon, French Laundry and other high-brow books), however, I’m speaking to you as not a chef, but someone who has a kitchen, some cool gadgets and not a lot of time on her hands to experiment with complicated sauces and fermenting yeast.

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just when you thought the kitchen aid was getting dusty – FEAR NOT! the chocolate chunk pecan cookies have made their debut…

Grand Finale! At six in the morning, I woke, energized. I flounced about the apartment, cleaning, dusting, sorting through laundry, folding up my summer clothes pining for autumn (where all the leaves?! the leaves?! be gone this humid weather and famished mosquitoes making dinner out of my calves!) and felt sorry for my Kitchen Aid, which had gotten a bit dusty. As soon as the market opened, I rushed out for sacks of ingredients. Although I wanted to rock out with the bejeweled cranberry almond cinnamon tart, I drew comfort from my mainstay – cookies & loaves. This morning my kitchen was fragrant with chocolate chunk pecan cookies (crisp on the outside, soft on the inside) and my infamous chocolate chip pumpkin loaf. I have been warned that I dare not set foot into the office without baked goods. Okay! I said on Friday, waving my hands in defeat. Consider yourselves fed, folks.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Felicia’s Pecan Touch

Makes About 3 Dozen
Ingredients: I use all local/organic ingredients because this is how I roll
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar (I used cane sugar)
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar (I used light brown sugar)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large whole egg, plus 1 large egg white
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chunks (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Before the Creaming... Preheat the oven to 375F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

In the Mix - the sequel Add the vanilla, whole egg, and egg white. Beat on low speed until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture in two batches; mix until just combined. Mix in chocolate chips and pecans. Note that even though the package of chopped pecans says “chopped,” I would give the nuts another rough chop so that they’re the same size as the chocolate chip morsels.

Before the Oven! Shape 2 heaping tablespoons of dough at a time into balls and place about 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden brown, about 18 minutes. Transfer parchment and cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Tips:
1. It was essential that you not overmix the dough. Overmixing wheat creates gluten which makes cookies the texture of bread. Not yummy. Mix ingredients until just combined.
2. Forgot to leave your butter out overnight? No problema, foodies. Simply dice your butter into tablespoons and leave out on a plate for 45minutes. The butter will come to room temperature.
3. Want chewier cookies? Undercook the cookies and let them sit on a rack to settle. You’ll get crisper cookies by cooking it to the time the recipe allows or perhaps cooking a moment longer.

crave the dish!

the best shot of figs, ever~! after months spent obsessing over a name, defining our brand strategy and musing over wireframes, target markets and editorial best practices, my dear friend suzanne & i have finally settled on a name for our online food & lifestyle magazine: crave the dish. while i can’t divulge details about the magazine just yet, i’ll relay that what we’re envisioning is simply not in the marketplace. it’s martha stewart for the domino set. it’s blueprint meets flavorpill, with stunning food photography and a unique voice. it’s taking the best of blogging and shaping it in a magazine format. there will be food! video! audio! fashion! lifestyle! music! books! and we’re going global, kids.

nigella: oh no you didn’t!

nigella, i saw the first show, and frankly, i'm concerned... I watched the first episode of Nigella Lawson’s new show, Nigella Express, and frankly, I’m concerned. I tried to dodge the scathing reviews flowing in from the U.K. Nigella doesn’t shy away from full-fat foods (we know this) and she has no problem adding hedonistic flair to her shows (this is what has endeared her to us), however, when I was horrified when I saw the plastic lime juice (the green thing! the green thing!) and howled when I saw vegetable oil. ALL OVER THE PLACE. What? You can’t take 2 seconds to juice a lime instead of making do with the foul imitation from the grocery store? I understand short cuts. After I almost sliced off my hand (I’m not kidding) trying to chop up that rotten bastard of a butternut squash last winter, I said FORGET IT, CHUMP CHANGE, I’m buying pre-cut squash. I’ll use canned tomatoes.

I love Nigella, I do, but I found her debut show wholly uninspiring. The fried squid was recycled from a previous show (this time she uses semolina and the dreaded vegetable oil) and there was nothing quite new about her roasted chicken, another recipe from another Nigella incarnation. The croissant pudding harkened back to an episode of Giada’s Everyday Italian. In short, Nigella Express, while shot in a better location – London proper, in an airy, well-lit kitchen (as opposed to dreary kitchen and the obscene Dean & Delucca or Whole Foods insertions to make us think she’s in New York from Nigella Feasts), offered nothing new and exciting for this budding foodie.

Fear not! I’m reserving judgment on the domestic goddess’s new show. Recipes such as marsala honey pears with gorgonzola look promising. We all love a little kitsch in the kitchen, but here’s hoping the show won’t unfold into caricature.

we love nigella. we really do.

clearly, i’m excited. i’m positively shaking. why? you ask. nigella lawson’s new show, nigella express, debuts this weekend! on the food network! the show seems fitting for anyone who wants to take short cuts in the kitchen without sacrificing ingredients and flavor. i’ll be glued to the tube this weekend and will report back all findings. it’s been a while since i’ve seen some fresh episodes from the domestic goddess.

and then, sigh! there’s the book! From B&N.com: “This is the first time that we’ve ever launched a cookbook alongside a brand new show. Nigella’s ratings are through the roof, and she was recently featured in In Style. The cookbook is all of the delicious foods Nigella is known for” but the emphasis is on fast” really fast! This is for everyone who loves good food, but just doesn’t have time or patience at the end of the day for a long, drawn-out cooking session. More than 130 recipes.”

in other news: whipup just got a makeover, and can we say – fox trot?!

the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf – suffice it to say, we nearly passed out…

Morning Chow Things have been precarious lately. Off-kilter. Not having a partner whilst seeing everyone else I know and love couple off, engage, bear children, is becoming more difficult to bear. I’ve heard all the lectures before, I tell them to myself: it’ll happen when it needs to happen (like everything else in your life that has fallen spectacularly together), put yourself out there…etc, etc, etc. Logically, I know these things but it doesn’t make the day-to-day that much easier. So I press on, do the things that bring give me shelter. And for me, one of those things is baking. Baking is tactile, gives you this arcane sense of accomplishment. The I MADE THIS? This came from me? My own oven? I’m able to create something with my own two hands which brings joy to other people? Absolutely. Sign me up. Immediately.

Who knew??? Yesterday, the girls dovetailed to one girl, a dear friend I haven’t seen in quite some time. A friend who has influenced me in more ways that she knows. Her heart is the kindest I know. My friend has been sober for over six years and her counsel and support is invaluable – she is probably the one person to whom I can speak candidly. That I can say that it’s been seven months of sobriety and although this choice has revealed this terrific life, part of me is nervous. Alone, sometimes my hands quiver. I learn from her that this is normal. That ease comes in degrees. So I wait for my one year, the year that will be different than the previous thirteen. And with this, we toast with our pomegranate spritzers and set off for the kitchen.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread And would you believe if I told you that this bread is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever made? The combination of the spiced pumpkin juxtaposed with the sweet creaminess of the chocolate is utterly indescribable. The top was mildy crisp and the inside moist, delectable and flavorful. Bits of chocolate chips dot the interior. My friend and I stand over my sink, confounded, holding our plates of sliced bread.

We made this?!

pumkin muffins! pumpkin muffins!

inside the muffin!
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? A whole day filled with pumpkins and autumnal squash. The girls haven’t even arrived and I’ve been busy – jetting downtown to Whole Foods to pick up a week’s worth of supplies, and surverying the lush and vibrant fall produce – rows of aubergines, leafy greens. Plump apples and piles of sweet pumpkin! After buying the store (and then some), I headed home, giddy. I couldn’t wait to fix the ultimate muffin!

But then there was the internet. Who knew finding a wholesome recipe could be so difficult?! A quick google search revealed pages of recipes that involved boxed cake pix (um, no thanks. you can keep your high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils), and recipes that assume you’re a muffin-baking pro (translation = dodgy directions). Martha was a bit. Ina, zilch, and then I checked out one of my favorite blogs, smitten kitchen, and voila – gold.

What I love about Smitten Kitchen is the fact that you’re baking right alongside Deb. Food snobs, be forewarned. She sometimes flubs the recipes and she’s candid about her tips, mishaps and culinary adventures. Because who always gets it right the first time and wants to rub your face in it??! Oh, yes, that mousse was so easy. The pate a choux, a cinch. Reading Deb’s blog makes me feel less than a bumbling idiot in the kitchen.

One thing we both agree on – it is crucial to not overmix the batter. You’re tempted, I can feel it. But don’t. I like to call this the hockey-puck effect. When dealing with flour (like egg whites), be fearless, but careful. No one wants gummy, tough muffins. With this recipe, the tops will be a little crunchy (delish!! delish!!), while the insides will be moist.

Pumpkin Muffins (recipe snagged from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients
1½ cups all-purpose flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-oz can)**
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice***
1¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda****
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon

pumpkin muffins! Put oven in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put liners in muffin cups. Whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, pumpkin-pie spice, 1¼ cups sugar, baking soda/powder, and salt in a large bowl until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

Stir together cinnamon and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl.

Divide batter among muffin cups (each should be about three-fourths full), then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

*I used unbleached, all purpose
**Do not use the canned pumpkin pie filling, which is loaded with sugar and other terrible preservatives. Make sure the can says “pure pumpkin” or “packed pumpkin” – this is critical
***I didn’t have this handy (who does?), so after some careful research, this was my substitute: 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp all spice (ratio should be 4:1:1). Update: In retrospect, I would have upp’d the ante on the nutmeg/all spice (perhaps 1/4 tsp each). :) I could definitely taste the spices, but I felt the muffins lacking, a smidge, in seasoning. Nothing to panic over.
****Ensure your leavening agents are fresh. This will make your muffins rise. Bicarb left for over 6 months won’t work as well.

been checking out…

Does your closet give you vertigo? Have you hidden that baby doll dress circa 1996, Laura Ashley? Or do you have a style tip you want to share? The perennially chic Natalie is hosting a cool contest for a very fab book.

Make better fig newtons. Click here for the necessary dish details

This might be the most horrific rejection note, ever (via katrina).

Wow, shady – because it’s clearly not about authentically joining and engaging a community, rather it’s all about getting them to come to yours. Want to score free books? Then visit Writers Revealed – at least you know which books you’ll be receiving and I won’t force you to review them on my site (or review them at all), when it makes so much sense (from a marketing standpoint) to review them on yours. Online marketing 101.

Okay. I can’t help it. I joined the rest of my coworkers in watching the season premiere of Gossip Girl (after DVR’ing re-runs of The O.C.) – oh, do I feel dirty and ashamed. But I guess that pales in comparison to the privileged rich kids of Brooklyn (don’t get me started) and the enabling, clueless parents who don’t know how to raise them.

Book you need to read: Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.

Books I can’t wait to rip open with my teeth: Samantha Hunt’s The Invention of Everything Else and the new Junot Diaz novel, naturally.

mps’s new site. i heart her! i liver her!

don’t you just want to SHOVE this in your mouth?!

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Yummier, originally uploaded by Thinking Violet.

I LOATHE SUMMER! I LOATHE SUMMER! There, I said it. I hate shirts that stick to skin, my corpse-pallor which refuses to turn pink and gold, and the oppressive heat that makes me desperate for copper leaves and heady cakes whose sole purpose is to fragrant a kitchen. I love cashmere sweaters and crisp mornings, squash soup and the promise of the lights and celebration of the holiday season. Every year, come Christmas, my father warns me that he could die at any moment and I respond by shoving hot pie in his mouth. We look forward to these rituals and insane banter; they keep us closer.

So imagine my giddiness! my glee! to have my first pumpkin and squash pepper soup! a first glance at the pumpkins hailing in from New England. The possibility of pumpkin spiced bread!!!

As I liken my chocolate addiction to crack, what could be better than combining my two loves – autumn produce (in the form of a voluptuous pumpkin) and a shower of dreamy chocolate chips? The girls are coming over Saturday for our baking fest & trust that this, dear friends, will be shoved in all of our mouths!!!

INGREDIENTS (Recipe from All Recipes)
3 cups white sugar (I will be using cane sugar)
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil (I’m going to research a substitute for this. Will keep you all posted)
2/3 cup water
4 eggs (I will be using large room temperature eggs)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I will be using unbleached)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (I will use dark chocolate chips)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional) (I’m a purist. I’m not a fan of walnuts in my bread, so I’ll be nixing)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 1 pound size coffee cans, or three 9×5 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, pumpkin, oil, water, and eggs. Beat until smooth. Blend in flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Fill cans 1/2 to 3/4 full.

Bake for 1 hour, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool on wire racks before removing from cans or pans.