Italian Cooking & Language Blog

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

What else could you ask for?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Homeade Pasta Dough Recipe from Leite's Culinaria

The blog Leite’s Culinaria offers fabulous recipes. Today their recipe for homemade pasta dough caught my eye. The directions are clear and easy to follow with photographs. They offer instructions on how to form following shapes: Pappardelle, Tortellini and Ravioli. You can also color your pasta with saffron, spinach and other natural ingredients.

While you are on the site, be sure to look around. You’ll be inspired to plan the next month’s dinners with all the amazing recipes they offer.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Argiero's Restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan

I really like Argiero’s Restaurant in the Kerrytown section of Ann Arbor. The food reminds me of the traditional, southern Italian food (or at least an Italian-American translation of it) I grew up eating in Northern New Jersey.

The menu isn’t fussy. You’ll find all of your favorites from Garlic Toast to Veal Picatta. I’ve enjoyed the fried calamari and Fettuccine al Fredo a few times. Close to the Farmer’s Market with outdoor seating, it is an easy-to-find, comfortable spot.

It isn’t without a little controversy, however. When we first noticed the neon sign, we wondered why no one had recommended it to us. Once I started asking around, I discovered that it is not a favorite. In fact, a friend tried it on my recommendation and declared the food “inedible.”

I am a particularly difficult eater, especially of Italian food. I want dishes to be done right and well. Perhaps I’m more lenient with this restaurant because it feels New Jersey-nostalgic to me. It is a family owned business that started in 1977 that reminds me of my father’s favorite family-owned restaurant under a highway bridge in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Still, I think Argiero’s offers solid, Italian-American food. I say, “andiamo!”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Popeye's or Chick-fil-a?

A poorly kept secret is that I love Popeyes. Love it.

I also hate it because I know it will eventually kill me. Now that there’s one at the Detroit airport, I have to be vigilant because as much as I love it, I work hard at not eating it. The closest one to our home in Ann Arbor is at a truck stop which we rarely pass. It is harder in New Jersey: There are ten within seven miles of my parents’ house.

A friend of mine has a similar love/hate relationship with Chick-fil-la. A bad influence, I convinced her to take me to one. I’ll admit that it was tasty while we ate it and we had a similar, um, not so good feeling later.

For the sake of my dear Popeye’s, I’ll add that the chicken at Popeye’s has a thicker, crispier coating of batter that can be ordered spicier. Yes, those are fighting words. I bet no one else wants to do a taste test to see if I’m right. For my own sake, I will return to eating fast food, fried or otherwise, once or twice a year.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

YouTube Cooking

As an online writing teacher, I am tech-savvy. As a chef, however, I’m pretty low-tech: I adore printed cookbooks and print out the occasional online recipe. I scroll through the Epicurious and AllRecipes IPhone apps for ideas, but return to my cookbooks for specifics.

Of course, there is so much more available to home chefs. I’ve started exploring the possibilities with My Life Scoop’s article 10 Tasty YouTube Channels for Cooks. Click through for some great ideas.

Here’s how it starts:

After a long day at the office, you may think the last thing you want to do is chop, steam, and stir, when that microwave dinner is two minutes in the making. But cooking can be therapeutic. And whether you're a certified foodie or a comfort food connoisseur, the web is a bountiful resource of recipes and cooking how-tos.

One spot that shouldn't be overlooked in this department is YouTube. Printed recipes are fine, but there's just something about watching food being prepared that can be uniquely instructional and inspiring. You don't need a four-man camera crew and a dream kitchen to host a cooking show on YouTube. The network has been built by real people making real food, and many have garnered a large online following. We've highlighted some of the best below.

Thanks to reader Amy for sharing this link. Other great links to recommend? Email me: ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Osteria I'Tozzo di Pane's Recipes

I have many wonderful memories of eating at wooden tables in Osteria I’ Tozzo di Pane’s garden in Florence, Italy. My favorite entrée salad to have on a summer day was the Toscana: lettuce, fresh tomatoes, white beans, sliced wild boar salami and onion dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. It was the first place I tried pecorino (sheep milk’s cheese) with sunflower honey. I think of their Tuscan approach to cooking – simple and fresh ingredients that highlight each other’s flavors – while cooking in my own kitchen.

Looking for a special recipe to prepare for my husband returning from a business trip, I discovered the restaurant’s online recipes. I chose the risotto with clams, asparagus, leeks and saffron. I knew it would be a proper “welcome home.”

The recipe requires a little creativity since they don't offer all of their secrets: there are no specifc measurements. Saffron can be expensive, but you only need a pinch.  Serving grated cheese on fish dishes is never allowed in Italy; we did sprinkle a few red hot pepper flakes on top.

With a glass of white wine, we ate slowly and enjoyed the dish. I don’t remember tasting this particular risotto at the restaurant, but the flavors brought back the country that I still call home.

The recipes on the website are written in Italian. This is a perfect opportunity to practice your language skills without paying for a plane ticket. When you do find yourself traveling to Florence, you can salutare the owners who are always there, Andrea and Antonio.

The name of their restaurant means, “crust of bread,” which is not to be missed dipped in their dark green olive oil. Be sure to serve some on the side in your own home.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday = Decide on Weekend Brunch Place. How about the Northside Grill?

It is Friday, which means it is time to start thinking about where you’ll go for a weekend brunch. One of our favorite spots is the popular Northside Grill in Ann Arbor. Get there early because there is always a crowd waiting for a table.

Potato pancakes, which aren’t life changing at Sava, but Afternoon Delight prepares well, can be hard to find. Northside Grill has never let us down. Not only do they serve flavorful potato pancakes, they also make light omelets and lovely, dense biscuits and gravy.

They don’t need a website to be found by the locals. Visit them here: 1015 Broadway Street Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Thursday, May 20, 2010

El Azteco in East Lansing

The Blue corn Enchiladas at El Azteco restaurant in East Lansing were a delicious mix of textures and flavors. The service was less appealing, but considering the low price for a meal that would have served two, I still enjoyed the dinner.

I chose El Azteco after reading about their food on their website. After falling in love with New Mexico last summer, I knew I had to try it:

Our chiles are carefully selected and shipped from southern New Mexico. Blue Corn comes from the Indian pueblos of northern New Mexico. These fresh ingredients may lead to some seasonal variations. Corn and flour tortillas are prepared fresh daily at our local tortilleria - La India.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Art of Eating Alone

Why must there be an art of eating alone? Unfortunately, there still seems to be a stigma, especially for women.

I’ve found myself alone in restaurants in Washington, D.C. and East Lansing recently and it seems as though the staff work to make a normal situation awkward. To begin with, I’m almost always greeted with a hostess who says quizzically, “only one?” “Yes, it’s just me. Is that a problem?”

I’ve been seated in some awkward positions. At an Indian restaurant for dinner in D.C., I was placed at a skinny table for two facing a single man at a similar table which was only inches away. It was as if we were sitting together. At a Mexican restaurant for dinner in East Lansing, I was told, “take one of the very small tables against the back wall.” A man came in behind me, alone, and was given a booth by the window. I checked and I know it isn’t because I smelled.

I could say that you should take a book, work, newspaper, Iphone, etc., with you when you eat alone so you can look busy. Maybe you really do want to read that book or you went out to dinner just to finish that pesky project. But what if you just want to sit quietly and rest while you eat your meal? Surely that’s acceptable in this day and age.

I find that I eat too quickly and often too much when I’m alone at a restaurant. I try to remind myself not to be rushed by the waiter or my over-eager desire to eat the entire oversized portion. Of course, the same happens when I re-heat too much of last night’s dinner.

Enjoy yourself when you go out to eat alone. If there's an art to it, it is the same art that applies to groups: find a good restaurant.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sushi in Ann Arbor

Now that we’ve prepared sushi at home, I think we’ll mostly be eating it out. It was not our easiest cooking adventure, although we did enjoy the results with a glass of chilled Sake.

If you decide to try it at home, I recommend watching these helpful Youtube videos:

Video on how to make sushi

Video on how to make hand-rolled sushi

In the Ann Arbor-area, you can buy almost everything you need at reasonable prices at this market :
Hua Xing Asia
2867 Washtenaw Avenue
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
(734) 528-3388

If you decide to eat out, we've fallen in love with these two restaurants in Ann Arbor, MI: Yotsuba and Godaiko.

Both are outside of the downtown area and worth the short drive. Godaiko, next to an enormous Asian food market, has a Tatami room where you can sit on the floor with friends while you feast. Yotsuba is a bit further out and seems more popular; I’d recommend reservations. We were taken by the fresh ingredients, kind service to those of us who had questions about the menu.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor Poetry Reading

The Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor are an active and well-known group located right in our backyard. I had the privilege of meeting food historian and author Jan Longone recently at Zingerman’s Special Algerian Jewish Dinner. She and Laura Gillis kindly invited me to read food-related poetry with poet Marvin A. Brandwin at their spring meeting on Sunday.

I left the reading famished! Marvin, Emeritus Psychology Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Universty of Michigan Health System, started the reading with beautiful, rhyming poetry about food and eating. Oats, Brooklyn ice cream from his childhood, madeleines, and other foods, from the everyday to highbrow, were described in detail. The rapt audience laughed along with his cheerful poems that were read with love. Look for his book A Smorgasbord of Verse: Easy to Digest Food Poems (Ann Arbor, MI: Charing Cross Press, 2009) in local bookstores.

Members of the group followed by reading food-related poems. Jan read a recipe in verse and noted that there are hundreds of recipe books written in verse, which I hadn’t known. Considering how hungry we all were after hearing rich descriptions of prized dishes, it was lucky that the evening ended with a long table of homemade cookies and brownies.

Thank you again to the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor for such a lovely Sunday afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about Culinary Historians, I recommend the links list on the Culinary Historians of DC website.

If you are interested in reading samples of my poetry, please visit my writing blog. If your organization is interested in hosting a reading or workshop, I’m available to read poetry or lead a creative writing workshop.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Finding Healthy Recipes

We all want to eat healthier foods and feel better, but we don’t want to be force food down our throats with names like “beef substitute” or “no-cheese lasagna.” Yuck.

As spring warms up (well, in some places) and there are more choices at the local Farmer’s Markets, you’ll be even more inspired to try new recipes and invent your own. Here is my recipe for a simple cherry tomato marinara sauce.Try pouring it over roasted vegetables or on an egg-white frittata as an Italian-inspired salsa. Breakfast can be a challenge, but readers like you offered some great suggestions in the comments section here.

Here are a few resources that will inspire you to cook healthier dishes. Many of them are based on traditionally healthy dishes from a wide variety of cultures.

American Heart Association’s Delicious Decisions

Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Recipes

Cooking Light is a magazine and website dedicated to healthy cooking

Food Network’s Healthy Eating

All Recipe’s Healthy Recipes

These links have been added to the side-bar so they will be easier to find in the future. What other online resources would you add?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cooking With Kids

Visiting friends with a toddler recently, we made calzones together. Standing on a stepstool, the toddler helped to mix the ricotta and ham filling and knead the pizza dough. He even brushed the calzones with olive oil after we stuffed and closed them.

Before we started, I imagined all kinds of messy scenarios: A handful of flour thrown on the floor. An attempt to eat the filling,which had one raw egg, in fistfuls. Olive oil painted on the walls or Mommy.

Nothing like that happened. Standing close to him and showing him how to do each step before he tried himself, he was able to figure it out and smile, too.

It might seem intimidating at first to cook with kids. I does take some extra preparation since they can’t do everything and they might initially be frustrated. The grownup’s job is to set up the bowls (preferably plastic) in such a way that your child can reach and participate in small tasks like mixing. For safety, my friend says, "hot corner," when she opens the oven. Her son knows to stand quietly in a corner far from the heat. Once he oven is closed, he returns to helping.

As they get used to cooking and mature, they’ll be able to do more and more. Think of the great meals you’ll be able to prepare together in the future! They’ll thank you later for the skill that you’ve given them for life.

You can find my two favorite cookbooks geared towards preparing a meal with your child here. This blog, Cooking With My Kid, has some great suggestions, too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just Add Olive Oil: Two Amy's Neapolitan Pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

Two Amy’s Neapolitan Pizzeria in Washington, DC is like traveling back to Italy. The long list of sheep and cow’s milk cheeses, cured pork and beef, thin pizzas, homemade desserts like sfogliatelle and more. That is to say, just about everything that should have extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top is served there.

The last time my husband and I ate there, we ate with such gusto that we both left with stained shirts. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is what we ate:
burrata (mozzarella made as soft as butter)
ricotta and ramps with roasted eggplant
broccoli rabe
fried rice balls stuffed with mozzarella
pizza with escarole and sausage
panna cotta with a caramel sauce

Get there however you can. The website offers driving, metro/bus and helicopter directions. They understand the importance of a speedy arrival!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Marie Huntington Cooks Dinner (or: My First Parsnip)

When I grow up, I’d like to be retired chef Marie Huntington and cook regularly in her kitchen. Or stop by for dinner and eat. And eat.

I ate my first parsnip at her home. I’ve been eyeing the parsnips in the supermarket and even added one to a recent stock, but I’d never eaten the actual root before. It was delicious, but perhaps it was the simple preparation with salt, pepper and olive oil. (What doesn’t taste good with olive oil? Ok, maybe most fruit. And ice creams, unless it is a good olive oil gelato. I digress.)

I wanted to play it cool and pretend I’d eaten parsnips before, but I blurted the truth out. No one at the table blinked an eye. Marie kindly shared the recipe, which you can find below. I look forward to making it.

I was invited to Marie’s house while I visited my friend Shasta Grant Huntington of The Lovely Nest, and her family in Indiana. I’ve been hearing stories about Marie’s cooking from Shasta, her daughter-in-law, for years.

Marie prepared an amazing dinner of Braised Lamb Shanks with Orange Gremolata; Herbed Spaetzle; Green Beans; Roasted Parsnips, Carrots and Fennel followed by Chocolate Cookies, Shortbread Cookies and Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Frosting. No dish came out of a box and almost nothing was left on our plates.

Marie, a surprisingly calm chef before dinner, and her husband shared stories about traveling around the world to meet chefs and taste the cuisine. We sipped wine and it sounded so lovely that I silently wondered if I should work in a restaurant after we move this summer. When we walked into the kitchen and dinner was laid out buffet style and hot, I wanted to ask if Marie had assistants hiding in a backroom.

Marie is a former caterer, restaurant owner, food columnist and cookbook author. You can find copies of her cookbook, Cooks and Company Collection of Recipes: A Collection of Recipes from Main Street, Indiana, on Amazon.

Roasted Parsnips, Carrots and Fennel

2 lbs parsnips, peeled, and trimmed

1 lb carrots, unpeeled, scrubbed and trimmed

1 fennel bulb, rinsed

4 Tb olive oil

1 Tb kosher salt

2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3 Tb minced fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 425. If the parsnips and carrots are very thick, cut them in half lengthwise. Slice each one diagonally in 1" thick slices. Remove fronds from fennel, remove core, and slice in half and then again into thirds. The vegetables shrink while cooking so don't make the pieces too small. Place the cut vegetables on a sheet pan. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss well. Roast for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the vegetables, tossing occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot. Serves 4.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Three Generations of Women Together for Mother’s Day

For the last month or so, I managed to keep a secret from my mother and my great Aunt Dora: I planned a visit to New Jersey to surprise them for Mother’s Day weekend.

This was not an easy thing to do, since I talk with them and my father almost every day. Because of that, my wonderful husband knows how much I miss my family and encouraged me to book this flight.

My father was the co-conspirator on the surprise visit. He picked me up from Newark Airport and helped plan the details. When Mom came home, he was on the couch and recorded her as she came in. He encouraged her to come closer by pretending my Flip video camera was a new purchase that he wanted to show her. As she walked in and saw me hiding behind the wall near the door, he was able to catch the entire surprise on video. And man alive, as Mom would say, she was surprised! The three of us spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, eating and catching up as a family.

Mom and I set up the surprise for Aunt Dora. Mom went into Aunt Dora’s house first and told her that there was a surprise guest coming. I came in a few minutes later and Aunt Dora smothered me in hugs and kisses a few times over. I felt like it was my birthday.

For Mother’s Day dinner, my father made the dish my mother requested: a classic, southern-Italian lasagna with ricotta and fresh basil. Mom remembers growing up and eating this meatless, cheesy dish as a child. It is very different from how I learned to make it in Florence, with béchamel sauce instead of ricotta and mixed ground meat.

While we were eating, I caught my mother wiping the serving plate clean with a piece of bread. A perfect Fare La Scarpetta moment! Yes, this is how I was raised – to save every last delicious taste of the gravy. It isn’t rude; it would be rude to leave it uneaten!

I finished my bowl of lasagna and looked at the women in my family. A Mother is a woman who “mothers,” which has many definitions. Aunt Dora stepped in after my grandmother’s early passing and raised my mother and her two sisters. Happy Mother’s Day to two generations of strong women who raised other strong women! And most of all, thank you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rene's Bakery in Indianapolis

The Broad Ripple section of Indianapolis, while oddly named, is crazy cute. My friend Shasta has taken me here a few times and I’ve always been drawn into the stores with the sweet jewelry (this time there were some bamboo pieces that caught my eye) and paper products. Best of all, it is hip without being hipster (are those fightin’ words? I’m tired, so let’s say, “no.”)

This time Shasta took me to Rene’s Bakery for treats. I tried the apple coffee cake and she had a chocolate éclair. Sitting out of the rain in a nearby gazebo, we enjoyed our fresh treats. I’ve eaten enough bad coffee cakes that I tend to stray away from them, but this one with its oversized, buttery crumbs on top and moist cake was hard to resist.

Mmmm. Maybe I’ll have to find a good recipe for one since Indianapolis is too far to go for breakfast. Or is it?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Greek Mount Pelion Bell Pepper and Onion Pie

As many of you know, my husband and I will be going to Greece on our honeymoon this summer and I’ve been trying out various Greek recipes in the cookbook Vefa’s Kitchen. I recently made Mount Pelion Bell Pepper and Onion Pie, which was easy and relatively quick to make.

I say “relatively” because filo dough is a bit needy of an ingredient. It can easily dry out as it is waiting for you to finish a layer. According to some recipes I’ve read, this can be resolved by lightly covering the remaining dough with a (clean) dishtowel. No matter how carefully I extract each individual layer, a few of them tear before I get them on the pie. Since there are so many layers cooked together, this doesn’t seem to be a problem, even if it feels a bit stressful in the moment. My recommendation is to simply forget about it and finish the recipe. It will taste good no matter what it looks like.

Like yesterday’s rice stuffed grape leaves, I bought the filo dough at Jerusalem International Market (1713 Plymouth Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48105; 734-668-7773.) They have great prices and a lovely selection of items that cost a fortune in gourmet shops.

This cheesy, soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside pie was delicious! There’s only one change we would recommend. The recipe called for the peppers to be thinly sliced. My husband and I both thought that we would have preferred the peppers diced, instead.

Some of the Greek pie recipes I’ve seen call for brushed butter between each filo sheet. This recipe called for brushed olive oil, which is of course a healthier option. Perhaps I’ll make this substitution for other pies.

You can purchase the cookbook Vefa’s Kitchen on Amazon.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves

The Greek Cookbook Vefa’s Kitchen has not let me down. I recently made Stuffed Grape Leaves and they were delicious, even if the project took much longer than I’d anticipated.

The ingredients were easy to find. I bought the grape leaves, quite inexpensively compared to Whole Foods costs, at Jerusalem International Market (1713 Plymouth Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48105; 734-668-7773.) This also happens to be where I regularly buy olive oil in the huge jug that you can see in the picture above. (Yes, we go through quite a lot of olive oil.)

Ok, so perhaps my husband rightfully noticed that I made too much when he joked, “Whose wedding are we catering this weekend?”

You can purchase the cookbook Vefa’s Kitchen on Amazon.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Scotch Tasting in Ann Arbor, MI

Before meeting my husband, the thought of drinking scotch never crossed my mind. Since then, I've been trying various types when he orders them and have started to develop a taste for the drink. When I heard that the Stadium Market was having a Scotch Tasting at Bab’s Underground Lounge, I knew we had to go.

Bab’s Underground Lounge is a surprisingly large space, considering the tiny sign it has on Ashley Street. The tasting seminar happened on the lower level and was led by Cheryl Alagna, Master of Whisky. Complete with a video presentation, barley to taste, peat to smell and barrel pieces to handle, we learned about how scotch is made and why scotches taste different from each other.

We were encouraged to put a drop or two of water in the little plastic cups. This changed the taste of the scotch. Cheryl noted that “water is to whiskey what air is to wine.” She also cautioned that if we smelled the spirits first we’d, “nuke the flavor.” Her knowledge and sense of humor kept everyone engaged throughout the twenty minute presentation.

The key to tasting a spirit is to put a little under your tongue, warm it for a moment, breathe vapors out and then drink. This helps to keep your taste buds alive and ready to untangle the flavors.

Our favorite was the Lagavulin 16 which has a deep, smoky flavor and smooth finish. Cheryl described this flavor as a “peat bomb,” which is where the smoke flavor originates. It is an island whiskey and the water it is made with has both tannins and peat components.

On the second level, Stadium Market catered tables of treats, from deviled eggs to shrimp cocktail. I ate entirely too many eggs since they were delicious and something I don't tend to make at home. There were rows of scotch and a few other drinks, such as sipping rum, to taste. Everything was available for sale.

After we had tasting everything at least once (we had to confirm we’d decided on our favorite scotch!), we slowly walked home and collapsed into bed.

All in a day’s work.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Links to Free, Online Italian Classes

Accredited Online Colleges has put together a list of Free Foreign Language Classes Online.

There are a number of great links to free Italian language learning sites, as well as a number of other languages. With sound and video, you are sure to improve your speaking, reading and writing skills.

If you are interested in studying with a tutor for in-person lessons, I am available to work with you in Washington, DC starting in August or anywhere via Skype.