Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I’m looking forward to celebrating the holidays with family and friends before attending the Key West Literary Seminar. The theme this year is food and I will be in a poetry workshop led by poet Jane Hirshfield. As you can imagine, I can’t wait to focus on food & writing for ten days. I’ll be sure to share some of what I’ve learned when I return.

As you continue your holiday shopping, you might browse through my Amazon store with cookbooks and other suggestions or consider buying a gift certificate for your favorite traveler or chef to learn the Italian language or Italian cooking

Eat well over the holidays! If you’d like to guest blog here in January about something related to food or Italy, let me know. I welcome your words.

While I won’t be blogging until I return to the office on January 20th, I will be updating answering emails (Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com) and I look forward to hearing from you.

See you on January 20th!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Give the Gift of Language & Cooking

Looking for the perfect gift for the traveler or chef in your life? Give the gift of language and cooking with a gift certificate that can be used towards private or small group Italian language classes or an Italian cooking class, with or without a language component.

Gift certificates are available in $20.00, $50.00 and $100.00 denominations. You can pay by check or for an added $4.00 fee, via Paypal. A personalized certificate will be emailed or mailed to you immediately.

Gift certificates expire after one year from the date of purchase.

To order your gift certificate today, email me: ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Search for the Perfect Burger, Part II

Clearly if you need someone on a serious, time-sensitive search, I’m not your person. I started this search back in September with a burger at our local, Glover Park restaurant Kitchen.

To continue, I investigated BGR The Burger Joint. They make a fine burger. I pass the Arlington location (there are six locations) on my drive back from work three days a week. And it sits there, smiling and taunting me as only a burger place next to the wonderful Italian Store.)

The other day I gave in and stopped for lunch. Of course I ordered my favorite:

The Wellington
Roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic with a touch of mustard seed and blue cheese all atop our burger. Served on a fresh, buttery-toasted brioche bun with our mojo sauce.

Even though I really wanted the sweet potato fries or some onion rings, I was brava and only had the burger. (I have to live through this search, right?) Believe me, the perfectly cooked, medium-rare meat topped with the earthy mushroom and blue cheese flavors were more than enough. My goodness. I want one for breakfast right now.

What other burger places should I try on my search (you know, within the next few months?)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Haven Pizza in D.C.?

Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza makes not only great arancini, but also great pizza.

This pizzeria is very particular on their website that their pizza is different from New York or other style pizza because of the crispy crust, cooking temperature and a few other details that can be read here.

In fact, they write about New York:

Frank Sinatra used to send a driver up to New Haven to get a pizza from Sally's whenever he was performing in New York City. New Haven style pizza is not New York style pizza, and it is not a derivative of New York style pizza.

While perhaps the traditional, New Haven pizzas cooked in coal ovens were distinctive from other pizzas, this pizza was delicious just like other American, thin-crusts pizzas. I’m happy to wonder about their description as long as they continue to serve great pizzas.

When we were there, we couldn’t resist the (aptly named?) New Haven Pizza with White Clams, Garlic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Pecorino Romano, Oregano. This pizza was delicious, although not for the garlic-shy. In my book, that makes it even better. The tomato-sauce-free flavor reminded me of one of my favorite dishes: linguine with a white clam sauce.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Deep Dish Pizza: Perfect for a small, city kitchen

Now that we live in a small, city apartment with an equally small, city kitchen, it can be difficult to make homemade pizza (cheating and buying the dough from Trader Joe’s or not.)

There just isn’t space on the counter to roll out the dough and prepare the toppings. The solution? Deep dish pizza. The dough can be made in the food processor (perhaps I’m still cheating here, but it works) and minimum space is used.

I followed this Epicurious recipe for the dough. Instead of rolling the dough out on the counter and kneading it by hand, I threw the ingredients into my food processor. After letting the dough rise in another bowl, punched it down (definitely the most fun part of making pizza dough) and finally pushed it into a pie pan before adding the toppings and baking it.

For the fillings, I made my own tomato sauce and then threw on leftover onions, peppers and salami. (From the picture, you can guess that the salami didn’t need to cook as long as the rest of the pizza. Cooking is always a learning process.)

Since our oven is a rented apartment’s oven, it isn’t new or fancy and it doesn’t hold a temperature exactly well. To help solve this problem, I keep a pizza stone on the floor of the oven. It helps to hold in the heat while I’m cooking and occasionally opening the oven door to check on the dish.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cowgirl Creamery in Washington, D.C.

A big fan of cheese, I was happy to hear about the Cowgirl Creamery in Washington, D.C.

Since I know where to find scamorza in D.C., I started by asking about pecorino, the soft eating (non-grating) kind found in any Florentine restaurant. It is usually served as an appetizer accompanied by local honey. While the Cowgirl Creamery didn’t have it, the salesperson offered me some similar cheeses to try and explained that soft pecorino doesn’t travel particularly well.

When I asked if the fresh ricotta would last over a week, I was told no. While these, perhaps negative, responses would have turned someone else off, I was happy to hear them. The salesperson was honest, knowledgeable and didn’t push me to buy the most expensive cheese in the store. I left with a smile and a four dollar, reasonably sized chunk of pecorino romano to grate over pasta.

Why not eat more cheese? Choose one from the Cowgirl’s Library of Cheese. I might try this “wasabi disk” next time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last minute preparations? You might be interested in last week’s post about planning your dinner.

Eat well, enjoy your family and have a great week!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I love scamorza cheese. I really do. On pizza, in omelets, baked into pasta, melted over chicken or just eaten on its own, with or without a cracker. It is my favorite cheese.

The best part about living an urban area again is that I can buy scamorza almost anywhere. I’ve found it at high end gourmet stores and the regular ole’ Giant Supermarket.

Eat some scamorza today.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving: Avoid the Drama

It is almost Thanksgiving, but if you follow food magazines and blogs, you’ve been thinking about it for some time. If you haven’t, don’t worry.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving, you might be overwhelmed trying to figure out how to put together a feast. You could try to cook your turkey like some NYC chefs (everything from pre-carving to adding chicken stock as the meat is cooking) or you could search on Epicurious for recipe suggestions, including a video on how to carve the turkey. Many home chefs, of course, appreciate the chance to revisit family recipes, perhaps interspersed with a few new ones.

The key to a successful, and enjoyable, many-dish-dinner is to make a plan and stay relaxed. Some tips:
1. Write out a menu and decide who is preparing which dish.

2. Add times to the menu: work out when the dishes should be served and then figure out when they should be prepared.

3. If you are sharing one, smaller kitchen, as we will be doing this year, decide who gets to use the kitchen at what time. (There are always a lot of emotions and personalities together for a holiday, so this will help to eliminate some of the inevitable drama.)

4. Shopping the day before Thanksgiving is not the best idea. If you can, make a shopping list early and start to integrate the non-perishable into your regular shopping list. This will help to spread out the cost and make that final, big shopping spree less heavy to carry up the steps. If something needs to be ordered, be sure to order it in advance and schedule the pick-up.

5. Be prepared for last minute changes. Maybe someone arrives at your door with another pie instead of a vegetable dish. So what? Remember that the holiday is mainly an excuse to get together with loved ones and be together. So enjoy the time together.

Other tips for organizing a great meal? Please share in the comments section below.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Swing's Coffee Roasters

My husband and I were addicted to Mighty Good Coffee – freshly roasted and delivered to our door the next day – in Ann Arbor. I loved Espresso #46 while my husband preferred the Black Diamond Dark Roast. Yes, we are two picky coffee drinkers with his and her coffee makers: mine an Italian moka and his a Cuisinart drip machine.

When we moved to Washington, D.C., I wasn’t convinced that we’d find freshly roasted coffee that we liked. Happily, I was proven wrong by Swing’s Coffee.

I stopped by the coffee house recently and was overwhelmed by the aroma of the coffee. It was almost hard to imagine that they weren’t roasting on-site. As a surprise for my husband’s birthday, I bought the darkest roast (French Roast) and the blend with the best name (Rock Creek, named after the creek and city park close to our apartment.) We’ve been brewing the coffee at home for the last week and we love the rich, nutty flavors. Even though I usually prefer an Italian caffe’ to American drip coffee, these two coffees are rich enough that I enjoy them almost as much as my usual espresso.

The historic M. E. Swing Co. began roasting coffee in 1916. Today, coffee drinkers can go to the roasting facility in Alexandria or their coffee house by the White House in the District (1702 G Street N.W.). Sure, Swing’s coffee costs more than Mighty Good’s, and won’t be delivered in town free of charge, but it is something to try and enjoy on special occasions. A continued happy birthday to my husband!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leftover Risotto? Make Arancini!

Following up on last week’s risotto, let’s say you make too much of it. (The dried rice is deceptively small-looking in the pot. Just wait until it absorbs the broth…) Now what will you do what all that rice?

Make Arancini!

Arancini are essentially fried rice balls. They are classically made from a mushroom and pea risotto, although any risotto with cut-up vegetables could work well. The middle of the ball is stuffed with a piece of mozzarella. Here is a great recipe for the risotto and arancini from Giada De Laurentiis.

Arancini are becoming easier and easier to find in more traditional pizzerias. Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza in Tenleytown serves them (see photo above.) While they were smaller than the ones I remember eating in Naples, they were just as delicious. You can also find them at 2Amy’s Pizzeria near the National Cathedral.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Preparing Risotto

Risotto takes a little longer to prepare than pasta, but it is just as flexible as a base for your own invention. Of course, there is the Classic Milanese Risotto and the southern-inspired Lemon Risotto, but you can also use whatever you have on hand to flavor the rice.

Essentially, you need Arborio rice, broth and some vegetables or herbs. Instead of leaving the rice to cook in a covered pot, you slowly add the hot broth and mix the rice regularly until it is fully cooked (about twenty minutes.) I find the quiet stirring to be an almost meditative experience. So, instead of cursing the fact that you didn’t decide to simply boil pasta, enjoy the moment. For a more exact, basic recipe, see this New York Times article.

The other night I used leftover chicken soup (the chicken itself gone, but the flavor still in the broth) as the liquid for my rice. I didn’t have enough, so I added some water to the pot. When the rice was finished, I added a bit more salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and dried basil to help adjust the flavor. It probably would have been better to have removed the carrots, onions and leeks from the soup and start with new vegetables, but I left them in. (Previously uncooked vegetables would have better maintained their shape and hardness.)

Making risotto requires two pots: One for the broth and one for the rice. In the rice pot, I started with olive oil and artichoke hearts. Next, I quickly sautéed the rice in the artichoke mixture before slowly adding the soup. Once the rice was completely immersed in the liquid, I stirred the mixture until it became drier and needed another ladle or two of liquid. I continued like that until the rice was cooked.

The resulting risotto was a variation on vegetable risotto. I served the risotto with a dash of extra virgin olive oil, crushed red pepper, and freshly grated pecorino romano. For a vegetarian version, use vegetable broth or stock. For a vegan version, hold the cheese. The entire dish is gluten-free. No matter what you do, the result will still be creamy (because of the starch in the rice.) If it is the first time you are making a similar dish, you might want to follow this Artichoke and Parmesan Risotto recipe.

When I took a cooking class at Trattoria Zibibbo in Florence, Italy, with chef and owner Benedetta Vitali, she stressed the importance of sautéing the rice quickly in olive oil before adding the broth. This helps to ensure that the rice will retain its shape and won’t become too gooey (a very formal cooking term) as it is cooked. (For more tips and recipes, see her lovely cookbook Soffritto.)

What’s your favorite risotto dish?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sage Advice

Thank you to a friend who recently shared bags of wonderful herbs from her garden with us. What a treat for these apartment dwellers! To help make the fragrant leaves last longer, I refrigerated, froze and cooked with some of them. I started with the sage leaves.

For best results with any herb or vegetable in the fridge, I always add a paper towel or two to the open plastic bag of vegetables. This will help to moderate the moisture in the bag. You could also use a paper bag or cloth towel. Don’t wash the vegetables or herbs until you are ready to use them.

I froze a small plastic bag of sage leaves after cleaning them and separating the leaves from the stems. Once they were dried on a towel, I put them in a small plastic baggie and lightly pressed the air out, labeled the package and stored it in the freezer. These frozen leaves will be great for soups, pasta sauces and marinating meats or vegetables throughout the winter.

With some of the fresh leaves, I again cleaned and dried them before adding a handful of them to olive oil with a touch of salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and crushed garlic. This is a great salad dressing and marinade that will store for a few days in the fridge. (If the leaves are wet, the olive oil can potentially grow mold.) I poured some of the dressing on an avocado salad and used the rest to marinate pork chops.

What do you do with your herbs?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creamy Potato Soup

For today’s taste, I am sending you over to The Lovely Nest for a great potato soup recipe brought to you from China. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ginger Treats

As you know, I love The Ginger People’s products. They recently had an online sale and I bought a few treats: ginger dressing, ginger juice and caramelized ginger. I’m super excited about this new package of goodies and can’t wait to start cooking.

Suggestions about what to make with the ginger juice? I’ve seen cocktail recipes that call for it and imagine that it will go well in a number of stir fries. I’m looking forward to using the dressing on salads and sandwiches. The caramelized ginger always goes well in homemade trail mix, on granola in the morning and in baked cookies and cakes.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Italian Grilled Cheese Panino

Forget American cheese melted between two slices of white bread. My mother makes the best grilled cheese sandwich.

First, she grills the slices of Italian bread in olive oil right on the stovetop in a cast iron pan. Once the bread is toasted on one side, she turns one slice over, piles on the toppings (mozzarella, prosciutto, and anything else she has on hand, like tomatoes, lettuce and salami), covers it with the other half and grills the whole panino. She usually turns it over at least once. With a fork and spatula, you can (mostly) keep the insides from falling out. The cheese melts into the bread, the crust is crunchy from the olive oil and the salty meats nicely compliment the fresh mozzarella. It is delicious!

My mom recently revealed to me that when I was growing up, she would use butter instead of olive oil. With that in mind, this is a low-fat version, right? If you are looking to make this dish healthy, I wouldn’t recommend low-fat mozzarella since it won’t melt quite right. In fact, I’m not sure that there should be a (really) low-fat version. I would even recommend adding just a pinch of salt to the olive oil to help bring out the flavor in the bread.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wedding Cake's One Year Anniversary

We froze our wedding cake one year ago and expected that when we defrosted it, the result would to be more of a science experiment than dessert. As my husband and I continue to eat a slice every night, we remain surprised by how delicious it is.

After our wedding, my father triple-sealed the top layer of the cake with the Ziplock Vacuum Freezer System. With a hand pump and a few special Ziplock bags, he was all set. My parents kindly kept the cake in their freezer for us while we traveled, returned to Michigan and eventually moved back to the east coast this summer. Earlier this month, I packed up the cake in an ice chest with reusable ice packs, brought it back to D.C. and then defrosted the cake for two days in the refrigerator.

Our wedding cake had alternating layers: chocolate cake with nutella and banana and chocolate cake with cannoli filling. The butter cream frosting was blue with brown, chocolate ganache dots. The chocolate ganache was rubbery, but the cake, butter cream frosting and filing – we lucked out with the nutella and banana filling – tasted only a day old.

Should we freeze a fried egg for next year?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Italian-Americans, Magazines and Meatballs

I love that the October Issue of Food & Wine features Italian-American Favorites. Pick up the issue or read online for the many recipes and fun-facts. Did you know that there are 324 Italian festivals held annually in the United States? And 26 million Americans with at least one Italian grandparent? That makes the Italian-Americans the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States.

Wow. That’s a lot of Italian-Americans. And what do they like to talk about? Food. What do they like to argue about? Food.

Meatballs are a controversial topic. This one soaks the bread in milk first, this one has a secret ingredient she’ll never share.

I’m often asked for a good meatball recipe. I love making meatballs, but I don’t usually follow a recipe. bon appétit recently published Molly Wizenberg’s “In Search of the Perfect Meatball.” She describes a mixing technique that I look forward to trying the next cool, autumn day when our kitchen becomes a temporary meatball factory.

Happy reading, cooking, eating and good-natured arguing!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crisps from the UK

We picked up these crisps from the UK table at Euronight. How could I resist trying roast chicken and pickled onion potato chips? Well, maybe they weren’t for me. My mouth immediately rebelled against the vinegar taste in the pickled onion crisps and it wouldn’t accept the taste of chicken with the crunch of a chip. They were curious, indeed!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vegetarian & Vegan Resources

Contrary to my recent meat-oriented posts, I used to be a vegetarian. In high school and for part of college, I stayed away from meat. In the early 1990’s, there were fewer options for everyday, quick foods like a sandwich, even one I made myself, without the dreaded high fructose corn syrup that I have been allergic to since middle school. And so, I eventually turned back to meat.

Happily, it is much easier now to avoid corn syrup. (In fact, it is even cool.) While I don’t think I’d give up meat forever (after all, I’m on that search for the perfect burger) I would like to eat more vegetarian and vegan dishes as a healthy way to vary my diet and try new dishes.

At the recent Fall for the Book Festival, it was great fun to introduce and listen to vegan cookbook authors, author of Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating, and Tracye McQuirter, author of By Any Greens Necessary. Their approaches made eating vegan food sound easy and best of all, delicious.

For more information, I recommend reading their websites (linked above) and their books, which you can find in my Amazon store.

During the session, Tracye offered the following organizations as a means to learn more about studies regarding being a healthy vegetarian.

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine

Compassion Over Killing

What’s your favorite vegetarian dish?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guest Blog: Sausage with cannellini beans and fresh rosemary @ An Easy Spread

Thanks to An Easy Spread for posting my recent recipe and article: Sausage with cannellini beans and fresh rosemary. It was fun to test the recipe and, even better, not hard at all.

While you’re on the site, be sure to look around at the great recipes and articles. You might even want to contribute to their Fall Writing Contest.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Search for the Perfect Burger, Part I

We started our search for the perfect burger in our neighborhood, Glover Park in Washington, D.C. Kitchen2404 is a southern-inspired bar-restaurant with reasonable prices and a friendly wait staff.

I ordered the Kitchen Burger (in-house blended and marinated beef, greens, tomato, wood herb mayo, delta devil sauce) and my husband ordered the Pit Burger (pulled pork, angus beef, fried egg, creamy slaw, smoked bacon, barbeque sauce, cheddar cheese, caramelized onion). In his defense, I sort of made him do it.

So, the question remains: should the Pit Burger be so complicated? It was almost impossible to eat such a mammoth burger with so many parts without a fork, but it was delicious. Does a burger need a fried egg? Probably not, but why not?

In general, I prefer my food more savory than sweet. The “delta devil sauce” on the Kitchen burger and the combination of pulled pork, barbeque sauce and caramelized onion on the Pit Burger were a little sweeter than I’d like or expected. That said, they were both cooked perfectly (medium rare, of course) and delicious. Probably other folks would have liked this sweet-savory combination more than I did.

We ordered the fries crispy and they were. Kitchen has a great happy hour and we’ve loved everything we’ve had there so far, from the shrimp & grits to the sweet potato and scallion hushpuppies.

We look  forward to trying the many other burger places that help to keep Washington, D.C., famous as a good eatin' town. Don't worry, we have a long list. What's your favorite?

See you in our corner of D.C. on Tuesdays when Kitchen has half-off burgers?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fresh Pasta in Washington, D.C.

The other night we ate Vace’s fresh pasta with a fresh clam, garlic and olive oil sauce. It was like Christmas Eve dinner in September. My husband and I each had two heaping portions of this light, fresh pasta. Yes, the clams were a treat, too, but they were overshadowed by the pasta.

Vace Italian deli is in Cleveland Park (Washington, D.C.) I can’t wait to try the frozen veal tortellini and the fresh Italian sausage, too (not together, of course.) The store is smaller than the Italian Store in Arlington, but they had a large variety of fresh pastas and other traditional items like sausage and prosciutto di Parma.

I'm still full. And happy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall for the Book Festival: Cookbook Author Event

The Fall for the Book Festival, held primarily on George Mason University’s campus, started Saturday. Tomorrow afternoon, I will be introducing cookbook authors Lisa Jervis and Tracye McQuirter.

In an Advanced Composition class that I'm teaching at George Mason University, we spent some time reading the cookbook authors’ blogs and discussing what constitutes a well-written and designed blog. (If you are interested in writing, you might enjoy my writing blog.) I can’t wait to hear the authors’ discussion on heathly, accessible food tomorrow.

Will I see you there?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Euronight 2010

The European embassies gathered together at the French Embassy on Friday night for Euronight. They each offered tables of traditional food, drink and tourist information. There was live music inside and out and even swag to take home (we have a new reusable shopping bag filled with everything from magnets to recipe booklets to new thumb drives to a water bottle.)

It was hard to resist seconds at the Italian table with the wine, beer and famous arancini (rice balls.) Belgium’s table, one of my favorites, boasted fresh waffles and chocolate pudding.

While we arrived when the doors opened and thought it was crowded then, after two hours it was mobbed with hungry guests grabbing food and cutting in line for the larger plates, like at the German table that offered two types of sandwiches and a taste of sausages.

I found out about the event through an Italian language Meetup group. You might be interested in looking on that site for local language or cooking related activities.

See you there next year?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Food Writing Find

I was moved while reading the recent New York Times Modern Love article In Bitter Moments, Reaching for the Sweet by Sara Hope Anderson. I think you will be, too.

Candies are offered to the author by would-be-lovers, divorce lawyers, piano teachers and others. Everywhere she turns, in moments of need and need-no-more, there’s candy. With stark prose, she narrates troubled moments in her life by describing the candy that is offered to her in a hand or bowl. The candies’ sweetness doesn’t just punctuate or sweeten a scene, instead they become the narrative thread between the scenes. As a writer, I really enjoyed both the structure and tone.

What food(s) do you find reappearing throughout your life? For me, I find it hard to imagine a celebration or mourning period devoid of pasta, long or short.

If you are interested in writing, I hope you’ll visit my blog on writing from a writing instructor’s perspective.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

{Guest Blog} Cheers to Italia!

Thank you to Alyssa Ross, Editor-in-Chief of An Easy Spread for today’s post.

I often enjoy a good dry, Italian red wine, such as the Di Majo Norante Sangiovese 2008. It's tart and full of fruity flavors, making it a great accompaniment with pasta, pizza, parmigana, or sausage. In fact, this reasonably priced wine (I bought a bottle for 9$ at Total Wine) scored a whopping 90pts in The Wine Advocate.

But when I'm craving a sweeter, more luxurious Italian drink, I treat myself to a glass of Limoncello or Prosecco. Limoncello is a sweet lemon liquor, which is mainly produced in various areas of Southern Italy. Traditionally, it is served as a chilled after dinner drink to aid digestion. Trust me, after a big bowl of pasta bolognese this is just the thing you need. Cold, sweet, and smooth. You can purchase a bottle from your local ABC store, or you can be adventurous like Chloe and make it yourself

Prosecco is another one of my favorites. It's a dry, sparkling Italian wine. My mouth always puckers with that first delicious sip. At 10-13$ a bottle, this is often used as a cheaper alternative to Champagne. It's also popularly known as one of the main ingredients in a Bellini Cocktail: Prosecco, peach puree, and a splash of Raspberry juice. I often make my Bellinis in the blender with frozen peaches to substitute for the peach puree. You can find different varieties of Prosecco at Total Wine or your local wine shop.

Be sure to check out An Easy Spread, especially if you are in the D.C. area and are looking for local recommendations. My favorite section, of course, is the Food Poetry.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

DC Local Finds: Resources

We all want good, local advice about where to eat. Here are a few I've been distracted by recently. I hope you’ll add to the list in the Comments Section below.

I love reading through the Washingtonian’s Food and Dining section as well as the Washington Post’s Food section.

I recently came across metrocurean, a site dedicated to good food and DC area eating. I can’t wait to try out the “Five Great Hidden Patios.” Don’t miss author Amanda McClements presenting, along with others, on Food Writing at the Smithsonian Resident Program.

An Easy Spread offers local happy hour finds, recipes, poems and more.

If you are interested in taking cooking classes, I’ve heard great things about the classes at Maryland’s La Academie de Cuisine.

There are also classes offered at a few of Sur La Table’s northern Virginia sites.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Eating is Messy: How to Remove Olive Oil Stains

I was recently carrying a two liter can of olive oil and it leaked onto my skirt. Not just a little, mind you. There were long, dark stains all over the right side of the skirt. I was embarrassed and annoyed, but then I remembered the Italian secret to removing olive oil stains: baby powder.

Stain removal technique:

Pour ample amounts of baby powder on the stain. Let it sit for hours (I usually leave it in the tub overnight.) After it has had a chance to absorb the stain, knock off the loose powder and brush the rest off with a hard brush. If the stain is deep, I usually repeat this at least twice.

Wash the clothing normally. I do recommend avoiding the dryer until you know it is clean so you don’t risk setting any stains.

This works best on cotton, but you can always try your luck with other fabrics.

And they said olive oil stains were forever. Ha.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Save Money Eating Out. And Be Cool About It.

In this economy, it is cool to save money. Why not use the web to help afford to eat out?

There are a number of sites that offer daily or regular discounts. As a (free) member of the site, you are eligible for the discount. It is usually works like this: Spend $20.00 for a $40.00 gift certificate if your table’s check is $50.00 or more. Make sense?

Here are some of my favorites:


(New York Times article on Groupon.)

Living Social


Also, Facebook groups (“Fan” businesses like Georgetown Cupcake for secret, daily deals) and checking in on foursquare through your phone offers you deals.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Italian Store in Arlington, VA

I used to live within walking distance from Casa di Trevi, an amazing ravioli store in Roselle Park, New Jersey. Since we moved here a few weeks ago, I was on a quest to find great ravioli, fresh or frozen, in Washington, DC.

This was a very short-lived quest. Close to DC in Arlington, Virginia is The Italian Store: an amazing market with take-out in a strip mall with easy parking. The name, in bright green neon lights, is exactly right. Every imported and fresh Italian product you might want is on their shelves.

Last night we had double-spinach ravioli: spinach dough filled with ricotta cheese and spinach. Nicely packaged in a two-tier box to avoid breaking, they were delicious. We started with an appetizer of pecorino from Siena, fresh bread and freshly made taralli (bread sticks) with hot pepper. Other than the small, round loaf of fresh bread with lighter dough and crust than I’d expected, everything was delicious.

Even though I wanted to buy more ravioli (crab, lobster and porcini versions were calling my name), cheeses like scamorza and fresh ricotta, salamis, fresh sauces (the clam and the pesto sauces looked great) and a few bottles of wine, I was brava and limited my purchases yesterday. You know, to have an excuse to go again. Soon.

When I stopped by The Italian Store around lunchtime, there was a crowd lining up for their apparently famous pizza and Philadelphia Style Subs. I look forward to trying them one day.

Hungry yet?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

This Semester’s Cooking Challenge

I need to be a clever cook this semester. I was recently hired to teach two early morning writing classes at George Mason University. And when I write, “early,” I mean it. My first class, which meets three times a week, starts at 7:30 am. This means that to make it on time with some leeway for possible traffic, I should probably leave the house everyday at 6:00am. It is only about 20 miles away and against most commuter traffic, but it is still a densely populated area which means that the traffic risks are great. I’m a natural early bird, but that’s early for anyone.

So, I’ve transitioned back to someone who changes out of her sweatpants to leave the house regularly. For the last two years I’ve been teaching just about 100% online. I gained time by eliminating a commute and therefore had more time to cook. The challenge this semester is to still find time to grocery shop, make two interesting and healthy meals a day to eat at home most days and pack some lunches, while still getting everything done. I’m sure you know what I mean.

I couldn’t be more excited to return to the classroom. I enjoy teaching online and will continue to do so, but I discovered that I’m someone who misses having a regular reason to leave the house and talk to people face-to-face. A combination of the two – online and in-person teaching – sounds perfect and I'm excited about it.

Most people have this challenge that I’m returning to. In the past, I remember making sure there were a lot of leftovers, freezing extra portions and sharing the shopping, preparation and cleaning with my husband. I look forward to sharing quick recipes and some tricks.

What are your tricks?

Monday, August 23, 2010


I hate to be persuaded or even pursued by advertisements, but I was curious when I saw that World Market was having an eat, pray, love sale. I wanted to see their Italian treats.

And that’s how I found Illy coffee’s canned drink “Issimo,” (cappuccino, caffé or latte macchiato.) I know, coffee in a can sounds gross, un-Italian, American at its worst, and silly when I can just buy Illy’s coffee and prepare my own cappuccino in a moka on the stovetop in just a few minutes.

But yet, at the risk of losing my Italian citizenship, I will admit that I quite like it. It is tasty without being as sweet or burnt-tasting as a Starbucks coffee drink. Chilled, it is refreshing on a hot August day.

While the website suggests it isn’t available within fifty miles of our home in DC, it is at World Market and according to a friend, at CostCo, too. I’d be curious to know where you find the best price. I’ll be waiting here slowly getting wired on the caffeine I probably shouldn’t drink.

I promise this is not an advertisement.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Zucchini Flowers

I grew up relishing in the fact that I ate flowers. I felt a little like a monster for eating something so pretty, but that didn’t stop me.

My mother’s garden has always been rich with zucchini flowers. She serves them fried, as she remembers Italian-American relatives doing when she was young. The recipe is simple and a little different every time, depending on the ingredients she has available.

She picks the blooms in the morning and stores them in the fridge in an open plastic bag. With one paper towel thrown in to control the moisture, they usually last a few days. When she has enough, she’ll clean them, stuff them with a small piece of mozzarella and then coat them in a batter of milk, flour, egg, grated cheese (pecorino romano), fresh basil, salt and pepper. After lightly frying them in extra virgin olive oil, the mozzarella is melted and the batter is crispy. A perfect appetizer.

When you make them, be careful frying in olive oil since the oil burns quickly. To produce even crispier flowers, the cookbook from the Florentine restaurant Garga suggests adding beer to the batter.

To make other dishes with the zucchini flowers, I like to slice the petals and sauté them lightly in olive oil with salt and pepper. It makes a lovely light pasta sauce or even dipping sauce for fresh, sliced bread. I had them recently in Florence as a pesto sauce, but I haven’t tried making this yet.

Here are some good tips from the LA Times on how to choose, store and prepare zucchini flowers.

What is your favorite recipe with zucchini flowers?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Publishing Your Cookbook

Not only do I love to eat and whip up tasty meals, but I am a poet who teaches writing. On my writing blog, Chloe Yelena Miller, I posted a piece about cookbook writing. You might be interested!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Washington, D.C. Restaurants

As you know, we recently moved to Washington, D.C. And we’re hungry. The kitchen isn’t completely unpacked yet and we are looking for great restaurant and grocery store recommendations.

Hope you’ll share your favorites in the Comments section below.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bomber Restaurant, Ypsilanti, Michigan

We've landed in D.C. and I'm still thinking about Michigan...

By now you know how much I love breakfast. The Bomber Restaurant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serves piled-high breakfasts. The interior is pure WWII and the dishes can only remind me of any NJ diner worth its salt (high compliment from a Jersey girl.)

It has been on Food TV and received accolades over the years. All I know is that this was one of my favorite breakfasts while living in Michigan over these last two years:

Sunrise Biscuit
Open faced biscuit, layered with sausage patties, choice of two eggs, American cheese, topped with country gravy. Served with a side of breakfast potatoes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sweet Dreams Pizza @ Silvio's Pizzeria in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Silvio’s Pizzeria in Ann Arbor, Michigan offers a dessert pizza. “Sweet Dreams” pizza is a stuffed pizza with nutella and pastry cream. Need I say more? The creamy filling inside the crunchy crust is perfect.

The restaurant, tucked away in the back of the first floor of a building on N. University, has recently been expanded. You can sit at the pizza-bar or at a table next to the wall of planted herbs.

You’ll love all of chef Silvio’s pizzas, from the sausage and rapini to the traditional Capricciosa. Whatever you do, be sure to save room for dessert.

PS: We are moving to Washington, D.C., this week. The blog will return on Friday. Keep your fingers crossed for a smooth move.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Olive Oil

I use olive oil for everything from frying breakfast eggs to dipping breads at dinner. We buy jugs of extra virgin and light olive oil whenever it is on sale. But what are we buying, exactly? NPR recently ran the quick piece, “Your Olive Oil May Not be the Virgin it Claims,” reminding me of the controversy.

There have been many reports over the last few years that packaged olive oil is mixed with other kinds of olive oil and the labels (and therefore prices) are inaccurate. In 2007 the New Yorker ran Tom Mueller’s investigative piece “Slippery Business” on this situation in Italy and the United States, since so much olive oil is exported.

There is work to patrol the olive oil industry domestically and internationally. What can we do to be sure that the label – and price – on what we buy is accurate?

It isn’t exactly clear, but there are a few things you can do. You can try buying from local businesses, but that means that you have to live somewhere that the climate is prime for a good olive oil to be produced.

I like to rely on the looks and taste of olive oil. There are many different kinds and you’ll start to notice the differences as you try them. Instead of going for the most expensive kind, choose the one you like best. I tend towards the deeper flavored Tuscan-like olive oils. There are many Spanish olive oils that taste similar, but cost less.

Here are some tips when you buy olive oil:

Hold the bottle up to the light. Notice how deep the color is and how thick the liquid seems to be. If it flows quickly, then it is a thinner olive oil. I like a greener, thicker olive oil.

If the bottle is opaque or green tinted glass, then you can’t easily see the olive oil to note its color and thickness. I try to stay away from these, unless I’ve tried them before.

Interested in flavored, dipping olive oils? These tend to cost more. Why not make your own by mixing some hot pepper or other herbs with olive oil? Be sure to only mix dry herbs. If you use fresh herbs and they are still wet then there is a chance of the mixture growing moldy without refrigeration. If you do refrigerate it, it will need to be warmed before using because it will harden.

What are your favorite olive oils?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Homeade Magic Shell for your Ice Cream

It is summer and you want an ice cream cone with Magic Shell poured over the top scoop. Or, maybe you are weirded out by the very idea of Magic Shell and don’t know what chemicals could possibly make it harden the way it does.

I’ve always tried to ignore the “how” of Magic Shell and just enjoy my treat. I no longer have to ignore anything. Instructables describes how to make homemade Magic Shell. That’s right, you can make chocolate harden on your ice cream without crazy chemicals. I can’t wait to try this.

What kinds of flavors are you going to add?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Learning a Language Online

Thanks to a friend for bringing my attention to the recent New York Times article Learning a Language From an Expert By Peter Wayner. The article links to some great resources for online language communities. Has anyone tried these services? Some of them are set up like social networking sites and seem like they’d be both fun and useful.

The internet offers streaming radio, newspapers, social networking, movie rentals and subject-oriented chat rooms in any language. That is to say, everything that we have in English, but in your target language. By reading about and even discussing something that interests you in a second language, you have the opportunity to be engaged, learn something new about the culture and subject while practicing your language skills.

Not sure what something means? You can cut and paste words that you don’t know into online translators or dictionaries. You can respond and be answered on various websites. You will learn how to better understand contemporary usage and even slang, which would be hard to do in a formal textbook. The formal textbook still has a place, of course, since you’ll want to understand the grammar and history of a language and culture.

What sites have you found most useful?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Spaghetti & Meatballs

What is more classic Italian-American than Spaghetti and Meatballs? When I need a little comfort after a long day, this is the kind of dish that I prepare. You don’t need a strict recipe and can usually find what you need in your cupboard. If not, you can alter the recipe and it still usually comes out well.

Growing up, my great aunt would make spaghetti and what she called “gravy” (like most good Italian-Americans did.) She served it along with a steaming bowl of braciole, meatballs, ribs and sausages that had cooked slowly in the sauce. With a heavy dose of grated cheese, we were set to eat a messy bowl of whatever meat we picked out of the bowl with long, metal tongs. All talk would stop and the sound of forks twisting long strands of spaghetti on spoons would begin.

Healthy? No. Delicious? Always. While I never saw anything like it served in northern Italy, it reminds me of home.

I don’t follow a recipe, but this Food Network one looks good. Last night, I used a mixture of ground pork, beef and veal. I added eggs, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, crushed red pepper, dried oregano and dried basil. I cooked them on the stovetop in a cast iron pot, turning them carefully with two spoons as they cooked on their sides.

I made a few changes based on what I had available:
I used Japanese panko breadcrumbs since I didn’t have any regular ones. I would have preferred onion or garlic, fresh basil and fresh oregano, but I was also out of that. Finally, I served them with linguine instead of spaghetti, since that’s what we had. (We are moving soon and I’m working hard to finish what we have in our pantry!)

Some tips:
Like the Food Network recipe suggests, my great aunt always says to soak the bread crumbs in milk first to soften them. (I’ve never done this mostly because I never have enough time.) I find that some meatballs in restaurants are too hard and this is because they don’t always use bread crumbs. (I’m allergic to corn syrup and this also means that most meatballs have corn syrup hidden in the bread crumbs.)

Don’t try to use meat that is too lean because then the balls will fall apart as you cook them (just like hamburgers do.) You can bake and drain your meatballs to make them a little healthier. You can reduce fat by not cooking them in the sauce. If you decide you like the taste of the sauce with the meatballs, then try making it in advance, refrigerating it and then easily skim the fat off the sauce.

I cook the pasta in whole, long strands. Some chefs like to break them in the middle so they better fit in the pot. If you put them whole into boiling water and quickly stir them down, then they will cook evenly. I think that short pieces of spaghetti are hard to eat because you can’t twirl them on your fork. (And twirling them on your fork is the best way to ensure that you find memories of the sauce on your shirt if you forget to tuck your napkin under your chin!)

After you drain the pasta, be sure to toss it with either a little olive oil or some of the liquid from the sauce. This will stop it from sticking together when you want seconds or you are ready to save it for leftovers.

Don’t forget to serve your dish with freshly grated cheese. I prefer a salty pecorino romano. I also like to add some extra crushed red pepper, but that depends on how spicy you like your dinner.

Enjoy! What are your tips for great meatballs?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Markets in Florence, Italy

When you visit Florence, Italy, don’t miss the markets. Stray beyond the heart of the city for a truly Italian (less touristy) experience. Here are some photographs from the Mercato delle Cure.

Mangia, mangia!