Italian Cooking & Language Blog

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

What else could you ask for?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Zingerman’s: Yes, No, or Maybe?

In the next month and a half, I will be posting periodically on Zingerman’s. One post will include YOUR thoughts. So share on, good eaters!

As my regular readers know, my husband and I recently had a disappointing Zingerman’s Roadhouse Special Dinner experience  and were invited for a do-over in April. Will this second dinner be able to meet our expectations? We’ll see.

You are welcome to email me at ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com or post your thoughts below in the Comments section. You can write one line or write a guest blog about your experiences. It is up to you. I’d prefer to include your name, but I’ll use your initials, if you’d like.

Some things you could write about:

Zingerman’s Roadhouse

Zingerman’s Deli

Zingerman’s Creamery

Zingerman’s Bakehouse

Zingerman’s Coffee

Zingerman’s Catering

Zingerman’s Mail Order

Zingerman’s Bake Classes

Zingerman’s Zingtrain

For inspiration, here is my love letter to their chocolate bread.

If you’ve eaten at a Zingerman’s establishment, read their books, ordered their food, worked for them, lived next door, then you are qualified to share your thoughts!

The deadline for submissions is Friday, March 5th.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Shorts Brewing Company in Bellaire, MI

Contrary to attempts to be cool, I don’t actually like beer. Fancy beers that friends choose for me often taste sour and are too filling. Other beers taste like dirty, bubbly water.

This was true until my husband and I went to shorts Brewing Company in Bellaire, MI. This tiny little brewery in an incredibly small skiing and golfing town caters to both locals and tourists with a wide variety of beers made in small batches.

We sat in the side room that had a performance space and started with a special bottle of the Ginger in the Rye. My husband enjoyed it, but I didn’t like the bitter taste. Considering the very long list of options, I asked the bartender what she would recommend. She listened patiently to what I didn’t like about that beer and what I did like about the Brown beer I’d tried at the ski lodge where we were staying.

She suggested a flight and described the beers that she thought I’d like. Displayed on a short ski, here’s what we came up with:

Chocolate Wheat (Chocolate malt, wheat malt and well chosen specialty grains provide deep black wort balanced with Nuget and Fuggle hops. A full flavored, full bodied, toasted chocolate ale.)

The Magician (A dark red London ale with rich malt complexities lending notes of toasted caramel, raisins, toffee, and slight roasted chocolate. Very light hop additions let the true malt characters promenade throughout the duration of this pleasurable experience.)

Stellar Ale (Brewed exclusively for Trattoria Stella of Traverse City this beer is defined as a pale ale, but hefty doses of Amarillo hops make it more comparable to an IPA. Toasted caramel malts provide the sweet flavor that supports the intense citrus bitterness of the hop.)

Mystery Stout (Cocoa and molasses give this robust stout a sweet pallet that finishes slightly bitter. This beer is a real mystery waiting to be discovered.)

The Soft Parade (A blend of toasted rye flakes and malted barley fermented with 200 pounds of pureed strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries resulting in a sweet fruity delicacy. Intoxicatingly refreshing brewed special for those who enjoy their wine.)

She was right; I really enjoyed them. The Soft Parade, which sounded strange, was light and delicious. The complexity of the stout beers were my favorite. The Stellar Ale wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t mind it.

We first found the brewery listed in the edible Grande Traverse magazine. The edible franchise can usually be trusted for good restaurants. I had a deliciously fresh vegetarian sandwich with avocado and portabella mushrooms and my husband had a ham sandwich. Considering the high prices and mediocre food at the resort, this was a reasonably priced and delicious treat.

If you find yourself in Northern Michigan, I highly suggest that you look for this beer. If you live nearby, I bet you’ve either joined the mug club, or gotten on the waiting list which, according to the website, takes 6 months to a year. We brought home two six packs, if you’re interested in trying it in Southeastern Michigan before we drink it all. In fact, I bet you can find it nearby.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Italian Food on Arthur Avenue in New York by Guest Blogger Elisabeth von Uhl

Thanks to Elisabeth von Uhl for today’s post and pictures from Arthur Avenue in New York. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read her beautiful poetry book Ocean Sea.

Tucked away on Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section, near Fordham University in the Bronx is the original “Little Italy” of New York City. Today, the street is home to many stores, cafes, and restaurants. Even more, Arthur Ave. is great place to come when one craves Italian food but has no idea what particular restaurant in which to eat; just look for the giant Italian flag painted on the street or the painted parking meters striped the colors of the Italian flag. Unlike the “Little Italy” in lower Manhattan, there are no waiters shouting at you from store fronts. In the winter, the street is quite; while in the summer, cafe tables line the sidewalk.

Even more enchanting and exciting is the Arthur Ave. Indoor Retail Market. In 1940, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia instituted the Arthur Ave. Retail Market to clean up (and sanitize) the streets by removing the outdoor, push-cart street vendors and giving them a home in an indoor marketplace. Today, it is it one of the few indoor markets that remain in New York City and it houses a cigar-making booth, moderately-priced vegetables and fruits, imported foods from Italy, two eateries which serve wonderful sandwiches and pizza, a florist (in the warmer months) a booth that sells kitchenwares, and a butcher. Sometimes, there is even a person making fresh Zepolis for customers.

This indoor market is a great place to bring visitors. My parents and just everyone I know love the food and enjoy bringing home sausages, homemade pasta, and Italian candies to those not fortunate enough to live near-by.

Also, check out the (almost always sold out!) walking tour of Arthur Ave. offered by The Institute of Culinary Education.

The New York Times Real Estate section recently profiled the Belmont/Arthur Ave. section in the Bronx.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Zingerman’s Roadhouse Offers a Do-Over

Zingerman’s Roadhouse emailed me.

Taking a break from an all-you-can-eat-fish-fry in northern MI, I received the email in Gmail’s blue and grey. “A friend of Zingerman’s,” and apparently a friend of mine, read my critical post on their recent Mardi Gras dinner and forwarded it to them. They kindly accepted that it wasn’t their best dinner and didn’t make excuses.

They offered my husband and I a do-over. A chance for us to see what they can do right.

While we were at the Mardi Gras dinner, I had turned to my husband and whispered that we wouldn’t need eat here again. We checked the Ann Arbor empire off of our list of restaurants with nods of our heads.

But here we were being offered a do-over.

We ate some more fried cod and dipped our french fries in the garlic mayonnaise. The strange Olympic Winter Games on the television distracted us for a bit.

Finally, we decided. Why not? We’ll be attending their Algerian Jewish Dinner on April 13th paid for (full disclosure) by them.

The question is, will they be able to live up to our expectations? I’m curious about the menu for the Algerian Jewish Dinner, which isn’t posted yet, and the cultural history they hint at. We choose this dinner over the Beefsteak Dinner because it sounded like something that would be more of a challenge to prepare. The question is: Can Zingerman’s pull it off?

I’ll be posting various memories of Zingerman’s in the next month and a half, but I’d like to hear from you. What experiences have you had at Zingerman’s? Send me an email (ChloeMiller{at}gmail{dot}com) if you’d like to share memories from any of their locales (Roadhouse, Deli, Bakehouse, Creamery, Mail Order, Catering or Classes) as we wait for April 13th to roll around.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Papabubble Candy, New York City

They call themselves “caramels artisans” and they are right. Papabubble in New York City make candies so beautiful that they resemble hand-blown Venetian glass.

They layer their flavors and colors into delicate candies. They have small ones with designs inside ranging from words (words!) to pictures like tiny pineapples (pineapples!) You can special order candies with your own notes, designs or flavors.

I bought my husband a bag of spicy mango candies and for myself, hard raspberry candies filled with chocolate. I tried to limit myself to one candy per day, but when there were only three left, I couldn’t stand it anymore and gorged. My goodness, it was heaven. How did they get the chocolate inside of the hard shell? How did the lines across the candy become so straight? How were the colors so clear?

I may not have much of a sweet tooth, but I cannot resist these corn-syrup free pieces of art.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Supino Pizzeria by Detroit's Eastern Market

I declare that Supino Pizzeria has the best pizza in Michigan. Ok, so I haven’t been to the UP or tried too many pizzerias outside of the Ann Arbor area, but this pizzeria could contend with the best ones in the New York City area.

When my husband and I were recently at the Eastern Market, we shared a large smoky pizza at Supino's. With speck, garlic, mozzarella, smoked gouda and ricotta, this white pizza on a thin crust was fresh and delicious. We added some crushed red pepper were able to finish the entire pizza.

The pizzeria is informal. Diners order at the counter and the pizzas are brought to the small tables. Expect to wait about twenty minutes for your pizza since they make them to order.

And order you will. Again and again.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Zingerman's Mardi Gras Dinner

Zingerman’s offered a dinner on Fat Tuesday called “Creole & Acadian Carnival: A Mardi Gras Dinner.” My husband and I went with expectations that were only met half-way.

Am I allowed to live in Ann Arbor and critique the Zingerman’s Empire? Since we are moving this summer, I suppose I’m safe. Here it goes…

The email advertisement described a conversation about the differences between the two New Orleans’ cuisines and wine pairing suggestions. Instead, there was a brief talk that described a few differences, but didn’t identify all of the foods on the extensive menu. The wine discussion included a talk about the vineyard, but not how to pair which wines with which dishes. There was no discussion of the holiday that we were there to celebrate.

My favorite dish was the gumbo. The base of the soup had a complex flavor with a hint of spice. It was hot and dense with rice and fish. The red beans and rice serving was a close second with the rich pork taste infused into the red beans.

The side room where the dinner was held was packed, but under-staffed. It was like a mediocre wedding: we weren’t all served at the same time and some of the food was cold. For Zingerman’s prices and reputation, it was disappointing.

Fried foods should always be served hot. The coush-coush, a corn meal fritter which is meant to prepare the taste-buds for the upcoming dishes, was cold and hard. I was surprised that the dessert calas (a rice donut) also wasn’t hot. The beignet, however, was, and the taste carried through the heat. The crepe itself was dry and denser than a fresh crepe should taste.

My husband and I both drank the Sazerac cocktail, which is a New Orleans drink made from Jim Beam straight rye, Absente, and Peychaud’s bitters with simple syrup and lemon oil. It was delicious!

Here is the complete menu with a few explanations:

The Start
Boudin Blanc (white sausage with rice)
River Shrimp Canapes
Snails Bourguignon

Coush-Coush (corn meal fritter; the name means “cushion”)
French Bread

Crab, Oyster, Shrimp & Andouille Gumbo (topped with fried okra)

The Dinner
Crayfish Boil
Chicken Rochambeau
Shrimp and Bacon Stuffed Artichoke
Sole in Brown Butter
Ham Stuffed Mirliton (squash)
Red Beans and Rice

The Finish
Orange Crepes
Beignets (made from wheat flour) & Calas (made from rice)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Polish Paczkis for Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday (also known as Marti Gras and Carnevale) is Paczki Day for Polish-Americans. That is to say, a day to eat holiday donuts called Paczkis! They are filled with custard or a variety of jellies. The bread is fluffy and sticky with sugar. I’d vote for more custard than we found in ours, but I’m greedy like that.

We bought our Paczkis from Copernicus European Deli (617 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, MI, 48104; (734) 222-9633.) They specialize in Polish specialties, from pirogues to spices. I recommend stopping in for the great bread in the back.

I’d never heard of a Paczki before and read about them on Tuesday morning in the Here’s what Edward Vielmetti wrote about them:

Paczki Day is an annual Polish-American celebration of Fat Tuesday, celebrated in other places as Mardi Gras. The last of your rich, sweet foods you have saved up is made into a sort of jelly doughnut, though they are distinguished from the typical domestic jelly doughnut by the richness of the dough, which generally has eggs and milk. You are thus prepared for the austerity of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pallotte Cacio e Uovo by Guest Blogger Rebecca Galante

Thank you to Rebecca Galante from Vasto, Italy, in the Abruzzo region, for today’s Italian recipe. Rebecca offers guided tours and visits to the Abruzzo region to tourists interested in the culinary and cultural history. Famous for its chefs and coastline, Abruzzo is beautiful and less crowded than Tuscany or other well-traveled areas in Italy. I hope you’ll visit her website to learn more about what she offers.

Cheese and egg balls cooked in tomato and capsicum (chili) sauce

“Pallotte cacio e uovo” is the original name of a genuine and tasty recipe typical of Abruzzo, an Italian middle south region located on the Adriatic coast. Because this is a typical dish, is possible to find many version of it. Mine is referred to my town called Vasto. Cacio e Uovo represents a good main course and usually three balls each are enough considering that you can’t start eating Cacio e Uovo without a couple of fresh bread’s slices on the table.

Ingredients (serves four)

Cheese and egg balls

4 eggs

Pecorino/Parmigiano cheese ca. 150 gr

Bread Crumbs on request

Crumb (the inside of the bread) on request

Ricotta cheese 100 gr


500 gr fresh tomatoes cut into small pieces

1 sliced capsicum (chili)

1 onion

Olive oil: 2 spoon for each person
Take a large base medium to high pan (a clay pan is the best choice) and add the olive oil, the onion and the capsicum. Once the onion starts to yellow, please add your tomato. Over a medium to low fire, let it cooked slowly. Once the tomato will be cooked, add one and a half glass of water and wait until water boils.

In the meanwhile, put the eggs, the pecorino cheese (starting with 100 gr), the bread crumbs, the crumb and the ricotta into a terrine. You need to mix all these ingredients together with a fork until they will be compact and ready to make balls. It will take a little bit, so don’t give up. You should add bread crumbs, crumbs and the rest of the cheese as it is required. In this way they will be more and more dry and sticky and they will be ready to make balls.

We left the tomato with the water. Soon it will start boiling. This is the moment to put on it our egg and cheese balls. Before to make mistakes please make one ball (medium size) and put it on the sauce. Only now you will see if the ball is compact enough: wait 5 min. Is the ball still one piece? Or it is melted? In the first case you know that you can go on, please finish all of them and put them in the pan with the tomato. Cover it and let them cook 20 minutes. After this term please turn them in the other side and let them finish cook another 20 min. Remember Medium Low fire

If the ball will melt means that you need to add in the terrine more breadcrumbs and crumb or cheese!! And go on like before.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eastern Farmer's Market, Detroit

The Eastern Farmer’s Market in Detroit is awe-inspiring. Here’s what they say about it on their website:

Detroit Eastern Market is the largest historic public market district in the United States. Every Saturday, Michigan's largest and most colorful market is host to more than 150 farmers and vendors from Michigan, Ohio, and Canada offering a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, breads, baked goods, jellies, jams, honey, apple cider, cheeses, spices, herbs, plants and flowers.

Since 1891, Detroit's Eastern Market has been home to an amazing community of farmers, merchants, restaurants, unique shops, food lovers and residents. On any given Saturday, more than 26,000 Detroiters, suburbanites and tourists shop elbow to elbow, sharing experiences from generation to generation.

My husband and I visited for the second time last weekend. The market reaches for blocks, although it wasn’t as full as it had been when we went during warmer months. We found some lovely asparagus, pears, shitake mushrooms and wood for our fireplace.

I can hear the question you’re about to ask. Pears in February? No, not everything is 100% local. I don’t remember being as surprised by items like Florida oranges the first time we went to the market. That said, I’m not sure how much local produce there could be in the middle of the winter.

There are also some amazing stores around the market. We started at the Gratiot Meat Market (perhaps officially across the street from the market) and left with reasonably priced steaks, liver and New York style pork sausages. Then we were taken by two nut stores, Rocky Peanut and the Germack Pistachio Company. We bought fried peanuts from Rocky Peanut, something I’d never heard of before. You can eat the shell and all. Covered in delicious salt, these were a unique treat.

What's your favorite stand at the market or store nearby?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Viareggio Carnevale & Cenci Fritti by Guest Blogger Aurelio Barattini

Thank you to Italian chef Aurelio Barattini for today’s post and recipe on tomorrow's holiday: Carnevale!

Be sure to read his mouth-watering blog. Aurelio Barattini's restaurant, L'Antica Locanda di Sesto is in Lucca in Northern Tuscany in Italy.

The Viareggio Carnival was established in 1873 when some of the local "signori" decided to organize a Sunday a little different from the rest, by inventing a procession of decorated floats which travelled up and down the main street of the city. On that occasion a masked protest was also organized by a number of citizens, as they were forced to pay too many taxes and as a result the chief tax collector was certainly made fun of!!

The parade was liked alot not only by the patrons but also by the citizens and the idea of making floats that interpreted humour and disatisfaction of the people came about in that year. Since then Viareggio has become the home of the Italian Carnival, with its masked parades characterized by allegorical floats in papermache. These floats are true works of art to which the local float makers dedicate an entire year of workmanship. There is not one politician, entertainer, or intellectual that has not been a target (protagonist) of one of these floats which almost comes to life during the parade by the moving arms, opening and closing mouths and rolling eyes. On every float young people and children find a place from which to throw confetti and shooting stars to the crowd. During the entire period masked balls and parties in the various "rioni" (quarters, districts) are organized as well as numerous sports and cultural events i.e. "Torneo Internazionale giovanile di calcio.

The official Viareggio Carnival mask is the "Burlamacco", a clown which wears clothes taken from other Italian masks: checkered overalls, taken from the Harlequin's costume, a white ponpon stolen from Pierrot's big puffy blouse, a white gorget - "Captain Scary" style, a red headband and a black mantle. The name Burlamacco derives from Buffalmacco a Florentine painter and a character in the "Decamerone". However, it is also said to be linked to the Lucchese surname Burlamacchi.

The Recipe
The best-known Carnival pastries are Cenci (the word means rags), whose many aliases include Frappe, Chiacchere (gossips) and Nastrini (ribbons), while Ada Boni, who borrows Pellegrino Artusi’s recipe, uses the more poetic "Lover’s Knots." They are very pretty when carefully made, so she is probably right.

This recipe has been passed by to me from Nonna Lorena,a lady from Florence that loves to cook all the traditional tuscan recipes,and she's really amazing at it !

250gr. of Flour

1 Egg

20gr. of Butter

40gr. of Sugar

half a glass of rhum or cognac

Mix the egg with the sugar,then while you keep stirring add the soft butter and the liqueur,finally add the flour and knead well then roll out the dough high about 2 mm.

Cut it into little rectangles (about 4cm x 8cm) then fry and in the end sprinkle with icing sugar.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Greek Cooking: Vefa's Kitchen

In preparation for our honeymoon to Greece next summer, I’ve been trying out Greek recipes. Vefa’s Kitchen, published by Phaidon who also publishes the Italian Silver Spoon Cookbook, has an amazing collection of recipes.

For a romantic dinner one night, I tried the Pot Roast Lamb with Lemon. I bought the lamb at Knight’s Market in Ann Arbor and cooked it in my Dutch oven. It was tender and flavorful, but I do think that the flavors could have been stronger. Lemon juice and oregano were the main additions to the dish.

I love a challenge to prepare a new dish, but the risk is that it doesn’t always work out perfectly. The Christmas Honey-Dipped Cookies were delicious (and clearly lasted forever since I made enough for our apartment complex), although the dough didn’t work out for me. The recipe called for rolling it out and stamping out the cookies. My dough wouldn’t roll and simply broke apart. I formed little balls with my hands and baked them that way. With the baklava-like-honey syrup poured on top, they were delicious, although I’m guessing not very authentic.

If you have suggestions for Greek recipes to try or what went wrong with my Christmas Honey Dipped Cookies, I'm all ears!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Day Treats: Baking Powder Biscuits and Hot Chocolate

Being snowed in yesterday, I decided to try two comfort-food recipes: Baking Powder Biscuits and Hot Chocolate.

The biscuits were a breakfast surprise for my husband. The recipe, from Epicurious, had a few options: crusty, buttermilk, cheese or drop. I chose drop biscuits and I’m pretty sure that I cheated by not kneading them, but they still came out quite well. I simply mixed them in the bowl and then formed balls in my hand before putting them on the greased cookie sheets. I used less sugar and a little more salt than the recipe required.

The hot chocolate, from the wonderful food blog Leite’s Culinaria, reminded me of hot chocolates I would order in Florence, Italy. There was the option for thin or thick hot chocolate and we opted for the thin. I admit that I opted out of the salt addition, but my husband didn’t shy away from it. We also used fat-free milk instead of whole milk since that’s what was in the fridge. With a melted chocolate bar and Kosher marshmallows (they are always corn syrup-free!) whisked into a drink, we had a luxurious afternoon snack by the fire while the snow continued to fall.

With all of this delicious food to give me extra energy, I had a very productive snow day yesterday. I hope you’ll take a moment to scroll through the new tabs at the top of the page.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Best Brunch in Ann Arbor

My husband and I love going out for brunch on the weekend. While we are often too busy to indulge, we do have two favorite places that are reasonably priced: Afternoon Delight and The Broken Egg.

Afternoon Delight, at 251 East Liberty Street, has a great menu. Pancakes with real maple syrup, homemade muffins and breads, and my very favorite: Potato Pancake Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict. There is a serious lack of potato pancakes in this town, but Afternoon Delight fulfills this northeasterner’s cravings. I’ve eaten here a few times and I’ve never been disappointed. There is often a line when you arrive, but it moves quickly.

This weekend we had eggs at The Broken Egg at 223 N. Main Street. It was noisy, maybe even too noisy for reading the newspaper, but we enjoyed our generous omelets and toast. Mine, with artichokes and spinach, was fluffy and light. My husband’s special hash had a mix of spicy sausages that I’d never seen mixed together under eggs before. I think our side potatoes could have been crispier, but perhaps I should learn to order them extra crispy. There were bowls of eggs with cowboy fixings on the menu that reminded me of some cafes in Santa Fe.

For a fancier brunch, we enjoy CafĂ© Zola. For the opposite, we love the Fleetwood Diner. I still haven’t found the equivalent of a Jersey diner, if anyone has any recommendations.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Asian Legends in Ann Arbor, MI

Deana Kim Dalrymple, who teaches Chinese at Washtenaw Community College, recently met me at Asian Legends in Ann Arbor for lunch.

As someone who usually orders Lo Mein and other less adventurous Chinese dishes, this was an opportunity to try something new. With some description help from Kim, here are the Taiwanese dishes we had:

Pig ear, seaweed, and dried tofu. (For the pig ear, the exact Chinese translation is "pig silk" because the pig ear is cut into long strips like silk. The pig ear portion of the dish is in the upper right-hand corner, the seaweed is in the upper left-hand corner, and the dried tofu is down below.)

Stinky bean curd (upper left-hand corner) and Chinese cabbage (lower right-hand corner).

Taiwanese pork pan-fried dumplings (another name for "pan-fried dumplings" is "pot-stickers.")

Pepper Salt Pork Chop


Asian Legends (no website)
516 East William Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-2418
(734) 622-0750

Monday, February 8, 2010

(Slightly Cheating) Homemade Pizza

While we decided to make homemade pizza yesterday, we cheated a little. To speed up the process, we used Trader Joe’s pizza dough and marinara sauce. For toppings, we put sausage slices and scamorza cheese on half and olive slices and mozzarella on the other half.

The key to keeping your pizza from falling apart when you put it in the oven is to put plenty of corn meal under the pizza when you are adding the toppings. If you are using a wooden paddle to move the pizza from the counter into the stove, first spread corn meal on the paddle. Then, periodically check to be sure that the pizza isn’t sticking by gently wiggling the paddle. The pizza should wiggle too. The longer that the pizza is left on the paddle, the more moisture will seep out and it will start to stick together. If that happens, you can pick up the sides and push a little corn meal underneath. Right before you put the pizza in the oven, pour a little corn meal on your pizza cooking surface. If you put it in the oven too early, it will burn.

When making pizza at home, it is crucial to use a pizza stone. You can buy one for about $12.00 to $80.00. We bought a low end one at Bed Bath & Beyond and it works perfectly well. The stone helps to cook the pizza through and allows a crust to form on the bottom. If you don’t have a convection oven, it also helps to retain the high temperatures needed to bake the pizza.

Be creative when choosing your pizza toppings. There are some standard pizza options like Quattro Stagioni or Pizza Capricciosa, but you can make up new combinations, too. I recommend avoiding low-moisture or low-fat mozzarella cheese since it doesn’t melt as well. Fresh mozzarella works best.

With a fresh beet salad to start and some red wine, we had a delicious dinner. Sure, we could have made our own dough and marinara sauce and it would have been even better. It was still fairly fresh and less expensive than ordering in. The best part was that my husband and I made it together.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What’s your favorite weekend recipe?

You know the one: It takes a little longer than weeknight dinners, it smells like your childhood and it gives your family and friends a reason to linger at the dinner table.

In the comments section below, I look forward to reading your favorite recipes, links to recipes or descriptions of your favorite meals to prepare on a leisurely weekend night.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quick Meal Ideas for New Mothers: You have to feed yourself, too

Thank you to Elaine Petrowski, a postpartum doula who works in and around Ridgewood, NJ, for today’s post. She is also a freelance writer who blogs at Working Writing Woman.

New mothers, especially first timers, tend to underestimate how much time they will spend caring for their little one. That means the first thing that tends to fall by the wayside is a healthy diet. But with a little advance planning and some help from a partner, doula, family and/or friends, a new mom can take good nutritional care of herself and still have plenty of time to cuddle and care for a new baby.

With so little time to prepare and eat, every morsel you put in your mouth must have nutritional value. Ramen noodles, gold fish crackers, M&Ms and chips may be fast, but nutritionally, they score a big fat zero.
Keep plenty of fresh fruit on hand… apples, oranges, clementines, grapes and bananas all make a fast healthy snack with no prep but a quick wash and /or peel.

Nuts and nut butters are a terrific source of fiber and protein. Branch out from peanut butter and stock your pantry shelves with almond, hazelnut and cashew butters and alternate between them. A piece of whole grain toast with almond butter and a dab of apple butter tastes heavenly and is satisfying, fast and nutritious.

Next time a friend or family member asks if there is anything they can do to help, say “yes” and request that they put together a meatloaf, a lasagna, roast chicken or bring a pot of soup. Or hold a cooking party with friends or family a few weeks before your due date to stock your freezer with portion-sized packages of your favorites.

Speaking of soup. fill your pantry, before baby arrives, with a variety. Narrow the field by selecting those with the highest protein and lowest sodium content. Annie’s and Progresso make some tasty and healthy choices.

Keep several bags of organic, frozen fruit on hand. Peaches, strawberries, mangoes are all readily available and good candidates. Dust off your blender and stash a can of protein powder in your pantry. (I like vanilla Aria, which is a delicious, easy mixing soy-whey combination.) Put two scoops of the powder, 8 oz .of water and a handful of frozen fruit in the blender for a fast, healthy lunch or snack.

Think “whole” foods you can eat on the run like sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, trail mix, hardboiled eggs, aged cheeses, plain Greek yogurt sweetened with a dap of honey or real maple syrup, mini carrots and pre-cut veggies straight from the bag, grape tomatoes, bagged salads.

Finally, if you do have some time to cook, remember this adage: Cook once, eat twice. Or maybe three or four times. It takes almost the same amount of time to make one pound of stew, chicken or meatballs as it does to make three. Eat one portion today and freeze the rest of another day.

For more information on Elaine Petrowski’s postpartum doula services in and around Ridgewood, NJ, visit her website Tender Times.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Farmer’s Market or Big Box Store, Find the Best Ingredients by Guest Blogger Jane Bills from Let There Be Bite

Thank you to Jane Bills for yesterday and today’s blog posts. She runs the food website Let There Be Bite, a guide to best ingredients in stores and online. You can find amazing information from product reviews to in store guides. It is like shopping with an expert, personal shopper.

Farmer’s Market or Big Box Store, Find the Best Ingredients

So now that you’ve worked up the courage to get in the kitchen again, what are you going to make? I’ll let you in on a secret: if you buy good ingredients, half the work is done for you.

Think about it: If you buy fresh, perky asparagus rather than tired, floppy ones, it will taste better even if you do nothing but steam them. One chicken broth brand is watery and tasteless; another is full-flavored and complex. Which would you rather have as a base for your soup?

One of my major demands of food preparation is decent extra virgin olive oil. There is so much sad, burned, tasteless “extra virgin olive oil” (or so the label says) out there. (Yes, I said “burned” – bad oil is stripped of their rancid flavors and smells.) And people worry evoo is fattening, when it’s been proven that it’s full of antioxidants and is in fact a positive addition to your diet! Why do you think those old Greek ladies live so long?

I took an olive oil tasting class at the University of California-Davis and discovered that California extra virgin olive oil is truly the next great thing in American food. They have stricter labeling practices than the Europeans, whose “extra virgin” oils are not always so. Plus, Italy had a well-documented scandal a few years ago wherein they were adding non-Italian olive oil to their batches (like Turkish or Tunisian oil) and labeling it as 100% Italian. Why? The demand is greater than the supply! It’s all about marketing. Let’s turn to our own country’s production, especially since we’re doing it right.

Read more about how and why to choose extra virgin olive oil here. 

See my recommendations for California evoo brands here.

Generally speaking, when you’re at the supermarket, one of my Golden Rules is to shop the periphery. All the processed, shelf-stable food is usually contained in the central aisles, while the fresh meat, fish, and vegetables are positioned on the outer ring. Another Golden Rule? If you must buy some chips or cereal, read the ingredients. If you know what they are, great. If not, put it back and find something else. Want proof that reading ingredients is crucial? A 99% “fat free” yogurt has more calories than a full-fat yogurt because they have to add so much sugar to make up for the missing fat. Are you starting to figure out why diets never work?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Just Get in the Kitchen Already by Guest Blogger Jane Bills from Let There Be Bite

Thank you to Jane Bills for today and tomorrow’s blogs. She runs the food website Let There Be Bite, a guide to the best ingredients in stores and online. You can find amazing information from product reviews to in store guides. It is like shopping with an expert, personal shopper.

Just Get In The Kitchen Already

Drop that “100-Calorie” snack pack. Now read the ingredients on the label. Would your grandmother recognize any of them? (Not to mention that some of those engineered products actually make you gain weight.)

I have a good friend who is always eating junk like this to keep herself thin. And when I point out that she can’t tell me what any of the 12-syllable ingredients are, she simply shrugs her shoulders. Have we become that apathetic to the food industry and what it’s churning out for us? Are we so bogged down with day-to-day life that we can’t cook a simple a meal with ingredients that grow out of the ground and not out of a laboratory? Don’t get me wrong. I love junk food as much as the next girl (I have to keep potato chips out of the house or they’d be gone, well, already.) But we’ve become a culture where no one teaches their children to cook anymore. Everything is pre-made, ready-to-eat, on the go. If you have time to watch “Access Hollywood,” you have time to cook your own dinner.

I find most people are reticent to cook because they feel they don’t have the skills in the kitchen. I get it. When I lived in Italy, I took a basics cooking class and the instructor laughed when she saw me slicing parsley like an arthritic. But once you learn basic knife skills, the world of slicing and dicing (and cooking) really does open up and become much more approachable. If you don’t have time for a class, maybe you have a friend who can show you how to wield a knife. If you read a recipe and it says to “braise” something, and you have no clue what that means, Google it! This is why the Internet is so great. Most of the time, recipes are relatively easy. If you read one that goes over a page when printed, find something else. (Some chefs like to talk a lot, and break one step into seven parts. I compare it to the friend who tells you a story with every last detail included – the sun is going down and you were meeting for lunch.)

Another great way to get excited about cooking? Buy yourself some decent pots and pans. You don’t have to spring for the whole set; just a few basics, like a nonstick sautĂ© pan (essential for eggs), a heavy-bottomed medium-size sauce pan (crucial for keeping simmering items from burning on the bottom when you get sucked into Facebook), and a large pot for boiling pasta, or cooking spinach (I love how what looks like a bushel gets reduced to a half-cup), or a big pot of soup that last for days. Now you’re thinking: yah right, pots and pans will get me excited about cooking (eye roll). Trust me. My mother hates to cook. She would honestly survive on popcorn and scotch if she were left to her own devices. But I bought her a couple pots and pans and she actually pulled out a dusty recipe and went at it because she found them so much easier to work with. Believe me, if she can do it, you can do it!

Don’t miss Jane’s guest post tomorrow: Farmer’s Market or Big Box Store, Find the Best Ingredients.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sweet Fusion by Guest Blogger Mauro Feletti

Thank you to Mauro Feletti for his wonderful recipe from Romagna, Italy. You are welcome to contact him at mauro(dot)feletti(at)gmail(dot)com. Here, he describes how to cook shrimp wrapped in Italian lardo.

What is lardo? Lardo is cured fat. Yes, it essentially means lard in English, but it is a much more delicious version. Think about the white streaks in proscuitto. That’s lardo.

Sweet Fusion
This recipe comes from my homeland of Romagna. It is located along the coast of the Adriatic Sea in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Italy. While it is notorious as a land of sins and sinners, is also the homeland to a number of tasty and curious food delicatessens like Tagliatelle al ragu, Passatelli in brodo, Strozzapreti, Piadina, Brodetto di pesce. Romagna is a land of mixed food traditions as it has access to the sea, country and hills.

Below, I offer a sweet fusion of these different souls. My grandfather was a sailor and with his trabaccolo (trabaccalo is a type of Adriatic Sea sailing coaster) he carried wood and the precious white marble out from Istria. My father was a fisherman, but sailing is not the only passion he gave me; I learned to cook very early at home. The first recipe for the friends of “fare la scarpetta” is as simple as it is flavorful. I named it Sweet Fusion because when the lardo dissolves in the heat, the shrimp and lardo embrace each other in a sweet melt of flavors. I love this recipe also because it is easy and quick. The result is so unexpected that it will be a real discovery for who dislike complicated recipes.

• shrimp - 450 gr./1 lb

• Lardo (an alternative you can use is unsmoked streaky bacon), 100 gr./0,25 lb about 15 sliced paper thin.

How to make the Sweet Fusion

Clean the shrimps and remove the shell cover each shrimp with a slice of lardo (unsmoked streaky bacon.)

Preheat oven to 180°/400 degrees F.

Set the shrimps on a baking tin and bake for 10 minutes, no more.

Stay close to the oven, the cooking takes few minutes, when the lardo starts dissolving and embrace the shrimp it’s time to take it out.

Remove the shrimp from the oven, place on a platter and serve warm. Serves two.

Buona scarpetta a tutti!