Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Peanut Butter Bars with Chocolate Ganache

Now that I'm finished with school, I'm heading back into the kitchen.  How wonderful that the holidays give me an excuse to bake some wonderful treats.  Here's one that Alex and I baked last night that is absolutely decadent and delicious.  When Alex took his first bite, he could only say, "Oh my God.  Try this."  And so I did.  The chocolate was luscious and blended beautifully with the peanut butter.  The nuts add just the right amount of crunch.

I've modified the recipe a tiny bit from the Better Homes and Garden's Christmas Cookie recipe.  Instead of adding honey roasted peanuts and honey roasted peanut butter, I just used Skippy's Reduced Fat Super Crunch.


1 2-layer devil's food cake mix
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 egg
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup honey-roasted peanut butter OR Super Crunch peanut butter.
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk
3/4 cup honey-roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 11.5 oz. package milk chocolate pieces (Ghiradelli's is my favorite.)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over the pan edges.  Lightly grease foil.  Set aside.
2.  In an extra-large bowl, combine dry cake mix, 1/3 cup melted butter, and egg.  Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture is combined.  Press mixture into the bottom of the prepared cake pan.  Bake in oven for 12 minutes.  Cool in pan on a wire rack.
3.  In a large bowl, combine 3/4 cup softened butter, peanut butter, and vanilla.  Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add powdered sugar and beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally.  Beat in 2 tablespoons of whipping cream.  Stir in the chopped nuts (if adding separately).  Spread mixture evenly over cooked crust.  Place uncut bars in the refrigerator while preparing the chocolate ganache.
4.  For the ganache, in a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup whipping cream to just boiling over medium-high heat.  Remove from heat.  Add chocolate pieces.  Do not stir.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  Stir until smooth.  Cool for 15 minutes.  Very gently pour ganache over uncut bars, lightly spreading it to the edges of the bars with a spatula.  Cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours or until set.  Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut bars out of the pan.  Cut into bars.  Makes 48 bars.

To Store:  Place bars in a single layer in an airtight container; cover.  Store in a refrigerator up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.  To serve, thaw bars, if frozen.  Let refrigerator bars stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies.  December 2009.  Page 33.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pizza Night at Paesan's

Pizza Night ...
Originally uploaded by beebo wallace

Great pizza and pasta in a strip mall? I didn't believe it until our friends Rich and Kathy took us to Paesan's Restaurant in Winthrop.   Literally in the shadow of the jumbo jets flying overhead from Logan Airport, Paesan's reminds me of the local Italian restaurant from my childhood with checked plastic table cloths on the table, a baseball game playing on the TV, Frankie Sinatra on the radio, and bottles of Chianti, some with candles, which serve as humble decorations.

We go for the pizza, and pride ourselves in nearly finishing two whole pies, because it's just about as authentic as you can get outside of New York. Choices include the traditional, as well as buffalo chicken (Rich and Kathy's favorite), Pompeii (tomato slices, feta, black olives, and mozzarella), Melanzo (eggplant), and the New Yorker (garlic, feta, sun dried tomatoes, and mozzarella). But as we relish each slice, we have noticed people digging into plates of pasta and arrancini with obvious delight.  Their homemade specialties di casa include: gnocchi, pasta with meatballs and sauce, arrancini (rice balls stuffed with meat), and an array of the traditional items--veal and chicken parmigiana, shrimp and calamari scampi, chicken marsala and francese. Think supper at the Bada Bing with Tony Soprano and you'll know what to expect.  Nothing fancy, but good, honest food that grandma (or grandpa, in my case) used to make.

Warning:  Yankee fans are advised not to wear any part of the uniform upon entering the premises.     

For more details, click on the link:

10 Putnam St
Winthrop, MA 02152
(617) 539-1676

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Favorite Shot of the Week

Savannah Shadows.  Taken last week with my Canon Rebel XT. 

Favorite Shot of the Week

Monday Morning in Savannah at Gallery Espresso

"Mornin'" people call out as we walk around Forsyth Park, joining a mix of locals with dogs and students in shorts and sneakers who head out in the early morning, in the cool air that doesn't linger long.

Savannah rolls out of bed late most mornings, so when we head up Bull Street and stop for tea at Gallery Espresso, we have our choice of seats inside or out. On our visit last week, my tea of choice was Assam, a full-bodied and rich black tea from India that tastes wonderful with milk and a little sugar.

We collect memories on every visit. This time it was art--an exhibit on Andy Warhol at the SCAD Museum and another on the American Progressives who flocked to the Netherlands in the early 1900's for inspiration--aesthetic and cultural.

But the main purpose, as always, is to visit with our son--unshaven, uncombed, overworked, but delightful as always.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Old School--New School

Well, I'm back at school. On both sides of the desk. I'm teaching English two days a week and taking two classes at U Mass Boston on Thursday nights, getting training to learn how to create web-based instruction. It's exhilarating to be back at school. To be quite honest, I'm one of those geeks who wanders through Staples, deliberating the merits of one binder over another. (BTW, there's a new model that has a little window on the spine for a label...)

Some observations:

Red Bull is the students' drink of choice.
Texting in class is commonplace. "But it's rude," I said to Alex, who replied, "Why?"
There is and will always be students who do assignments at the last minute.
Students can doze just as easily through a Power Point presentation as a lecture.
All that important information covered on the first night of class never sinks in.
You Tube videos can provide wonderful teachable content.
Streaming video broadcast from the library and into the classroom is the most amazing technological invention ever.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

If It Comes From Arthur, It Has to Be Good

Here is Arthur Schwartz' recipe for noodle kugel. Who's Arthur Schwartz? The Food Maven, of course, who for years had a wonderful food talk show on WOR Radio in New York. If that weren't enough to make me a fan, he also loves Italy and Italian food and has written a number of Italian cookbooks, which I use religiously. I was thrilled to meet him earlier this year at a conference on exploring our Italian-Jewish roots in Grammercy Park. I had a chance to chat with him and hear him correct speaker on the precise number of seeds in a pomegranate, more proof of his vast knowledge about food.

So, for my Jewish friends and family, have an easy fast and a sweet new year! Here's Arthur's recipe for the Yom Kippur holiday feast. And for those of you who need a visual, here's a photo of noodle kugel from the iconic Katz' Deli in New York.

My Grandmother's Yom Kippur Noodle Pudding

Elise Sonkin, my maternal grandmother, was, as I have said many times on the radio, a very glamorous woman. Despite the appearance she gave of a pampered lady of leisure who never prepared a meal or washed a dish, her cooking was the despair and envy of the neighborhood. Everyone in our circles knew she was the best around. Elise loved doing it and she loved the reputation, knowing full well it was at odds with her appearance and demeanor.

This is the noodle pudding she made to break the fast on Yom Kippur. It is extremely rich, a buttery custard shot through with noodles. It is certainly not the best thing to eat after an entire day of not eating. But we did and still do. We precede this with platters of smoked fish, bagels and other breads, cheeses, egg salad, tuna salad, and whitefish salad, a platter of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers – basically what used to be considered the quintessential New York Jewish Sunday breakfast, the festive family breakfast that my family did indeed indulge in when we all lived together in one house in Brooklyn.

My Grandmother's Noodle Pudding
Makes about 12 luncheon servings

1 pound very wide egg noodles
8 eggs
3 cups sour cream
1 1/2 pounds pot cheese (preferably fresh bulk)
1 1/2 cups melted butter (3 sticks)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain.

Meanwhile, in a very large mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. Stir in sour cream, cheese and most of the butter, reserving some butter to grease the baking pan.

Add the cooked and drained noodles, mix, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour mixture in a 10- by 16- by 2-inch baking pan.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until top is lightly browned. Let cool about 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve hot or warm.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cooking With Wolfgang and Alyson

Originally uploaded by Another Pint Please...

One of my joys of the holiday season is cooking for friends and family. Although I wasn't cooking in my own kitchen this year, I helped my sister-in-law Alyson prepare dinner for 15 in her Harlem apartment. Chopping, dicing and stirring with her in her bright and sunny kitchen with city views of brownstones and pre-war apartment buildings gave me such pleasure. Together we re-created Wolfgang Puck's recipe for beef brisket, which was slow cooked in the oven for 6 hours, sliced thin, and garnished with a sauce flavored with pearl onions and slivers of dried apricots. She cooked it the day before and reheated it, which intensified the flavor. It was simply delicious.

Here's the slightly revised recipe from


* 5 pounds beef brisket
* 2 tablespoons kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1 bottle red wine
* All-purpose flour
* 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 10 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
* 6 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
* 2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
* 2 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch chunks
* 1 medium leek, white part only, cut into 1-inch chunks
* 1 cup dried apricots
* 6 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
* 2 sprigs fresh thyme
* 2 bay leaves
* 2 tablespoons tomato paste
* 2 quarts plus 1/4 cup homemade beef stock or good-quality canned beef broth
* 1 cup pearl onions
* Minced parsley, for garnish


1. Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the wine to a boil and continue boiling until it reduces to half its original volume, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Evenly sprinkle the brisket all over with flour, shaking off excess. Heat a heavy Dutch oven over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When it is almost smoking, turn the heat to medium-high, carefully add the brisket, and sear until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the brisket to a platter. Pour off the fat from the Dutch oven and add another 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic, shallots, carrots, celery, and leek, and sauté until glossy and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add half of the apricots and all the parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and tomato paste, and continue to cook 1 minute more.

3. Return the browned brisket to the Dutch oven and add the reduced wine and 2 quarts stock or broth. If the brisket is not completely covered with liquid, add enough extra stock, broth, or water to cover. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover the pot and carefully place it in the oven. Cook until the brisket is fork-tender, approximately 5+ hours. Meanwhile, blanch the onions in boiling water for 30 seconds, cool in an ice water bath, trim the ends, and peel the onions, leaving them whole. Cut the remaining apricots into 1/4-inch strips.

4. In a small sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat and sauté the pearl onions until lightly golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the apricot strips and pour in the remaining 1/4 cup stock or broth, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Cover and keep warm.

5. When the meat is done, carefully transfer it to a heated platter, cover with aluminum foil, and keep warm. Boil the liquid in the Dutch oven until it thickens and reduces to about 1 quart, 15 to 20 minutes. Pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, taste, and adjust the seasonings if necessary with more salt and pepper.

6. To serve, use a sharp knife to cut the brisket across the grain into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange the slices on heated serving plates or on a heated platter, spoon half the sauce over it, and garnish with the pearl onions and apricots. Sprinkle with minced parsley and pass the remaining sauce on the side. For neater slices, let the brisket cool before cutting it across the grain. Reheat the slices in the sauce for about half an hour at 300°F before serving.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I'm A Stereotype

That's what I was thinking the other day as I drove my Prius to the recycling center, and went shopping with my eco-friendly grocery bags. Then, I had a good laugh at myself for feeling so ecologically holier-than-thou...

Until last Thursday night when I was driving home from Boston. Tired from a day of meetings and hours of driving, I decided to stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the way home. But having limited empty cup holders, I had to ditch the warm bottle of water sitting in my car all day, but couldn't toss it into the back because it had no cap. So, as I was idling a stoplight at a busy intersection, I lowered the window and poured out the water. In my tired state, I hit the remote window button too soon and the window started closing on my fingers, still clutching the empty water bottle. As I frantically tried to pull the bottle back inside the car, I realized I had to choose between saving my fingers and letting go. The bottle bounced in the road as cars rushed by, followed by a hushed silence and then a roar as the car behind me started honking. When the light changed, the driver zoomed past, giving me the finger. "Hey, wait," I wanted to say. "You don't understand. I don't litter. Really. See, I drive a Prius."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ice Cream Heaven

I finally found it. The perfect ice cream. Imagine this. Premium vanilla ice cream laced with chunks of brownies and chocolate chips, and threads of smooth, creamy fudge. It's worth eating salads all day in penance in order to savor a guiltless cup of Moose Tracks at Bailey's Bubble, my new mecca. It's in Wolfsboro, New Hampshire on the north-eastern rim of Lake Winnepesaukee. I think it's the prettiest town on the lake and the most real--meaning there's more to do there than buy souvenir kitsch. If you try Bailey's, let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

You've Gotta Love Those Guys in Brown

Originally uploaded by EJGcatholic

...not the UPS guys, silly. But the monks--specifically the Trappist monks who make those delicious jams and jellies that we love so much. Now we adore them even more after they sent us a case of jellies gratis, to apologize for a processing glitch in a jar of preserves we had bought from our local grocery. How's that for smart public relations? They have rightly earned our undying devotion and loyalty. We're eating our way right now through the dozen flavors, specifically plum and blueberry, but to date, the cherry is still my favorite. Give Trappist Preserves a try. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

100 Calories? Are You Kidding?

That's what I said after I tasted this delicious potato pancake,which has now become a staple in our house, along with Dr. Praeger's California Veggie Burgers, Spinach Pancakes and Broccoli Pancakes. Dear, dear Dr. Praeger has rescued me from the culinary tundra I've stumbled into now that Rich has declared his undying allegiance to vegetable kingdom and has sworn off meat. Created by two New Jersey heart surgeons, Dr. Prager's products are all natural, low in fat, sugar, and cholesterol, and are made from fresh ingredients. Plus, all his foods are certified Kosher. How perfect is that?

You can find Dr. Praeger's in the frozen food or organic section of your grocery or online at:

P.S. Next, we try the pizza bagel.

The Pink House

Faded,paint crumbling. We pass it season by season on our morning walks. We wonder who the house belonged to and why it was abandoned years ago. Curtains still hang from the windows. Boxes on tables are barely visible from the street as if the occupant decided in mid-move just to stop packing. A mystery. What do you think happened?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What They Take With Them

I don't understand the allure of the RV. Aficionados claim it's the perfect getaway vehicle, but unless you're willing to tow a car behind you, you're limited to going to state parks and other rural places. It's not economical anymore either, given the price of gas. And if you lug a car, trailer, boat, bicycles, and hundreds of other things from home with you, then you're faced with the drudgery of unloading, setting up and packing up. RVs also come with a hefty price tag, and with that money you could go on a dozen very nice trips just about anywhere in the world.

We've been making a list this summer on our daily walks to Ellacoya State Park of the things people take with them in their RVs. Here's a partial list:

plastic lanterns
5-foot high plastic palm trees with mini lights
lawn chairs and rugs for the "front porch"
lawn ornaments
wooden signs with the family name inscribed on it
tablecloths for the picnic table
dining tents
outdoor lawn games
inflatable kiddie pools
barbecues (even though the park supplies them)

Can you help me understand the allure?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blame It On The Mexicans

Conversation #1 at the only local Mexican restaurant in this area:

Me: What's the Mexican population here?
Restaurant Owner: Well...there's me, my wife, my daughter...

Conversation #2 at the local gym:

A man is complaining to me about a wallet being stolen from a locker at the local gym.

Man: I think it's the Mexicans.
Me: What Mexicans? There aren't any Mexicans around here.
Man: They drive up from Manchester.
Me: Manchester?

P.S. It's over an hour away.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Two Dogs Out For a Stroll a stroller. Why? Their owner explained that the one on the right has a hip problem and needs surgery and the one on the left tagged along for the ride.

This is my favorite shot of the week, taken with my Canon Rebel XT.

Top of the Muffin--to You

Like Elaine on Seinfeld, I love muffin tops. They definitely are the best part of the muffin. But the calories always stop me from enjoying them on a regular basis. Well, after discovering Vitatops, I'm in breakfast heaven.

These 100 calorie muffin tops are not only delicious, they're also healthy for you. If that sounds like an oxymoron (how can anything with vitamins and minerals taste good?), be prepared to be surprised with how delicious they taste. Apple, cranberry, multigrain, corn, even chocolate chip--I'm planning on trying them all. And by the way, it takes 13 minutes of walking to burn off one of them--according to their website. So far, my favorite is the corn, which comes out of the toaster crisp and golden brown.

By the way, Vitalicious also sells muffins, brownies and coffee. They also accept web orders. You can find them in the freezer section or on the web at:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

So Tired

exhausted, originally uploaded by Dalla*.

How tired was I? So tired that I drove to the gym after teaching, parked the car and decided I'd shut my eyes for a few minutes before I got out of the car and worked out....

Twenty minutes later, the phone rang and woke me up. It was my son.
"Where are you, mom?"

Sunday, May 24, 2009

An Unexpected Find on the Hiking Trail Today

Our friend Dean, who is a naturalist, tells us that this is a carnivorous flower, beautiful but deadly for insects, which are lured by the lovely scent and then are trapped inside the petals.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Need A Smile Today? Watch This.

Here's the description from You Tube: "More than 200 dancers performed their version of "Do Re Mi", in the Central Station of Antwerp. With just 2 rehearsals they created this amazing stunt! Those 4 fantastic minutes started the 23 of March 2009, 08:00 AM."

Apparently it's part of a promotion for a Belgian television program looking for someone to play the leading role in the musical "The Sound of Music".

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Migrating North

Timeless Beauty, originally uploaded by A Fool in Miami.

As we were driving north last week on I-95 on that scrubby stretch from Jacksonville to Savannah, we started to notice cars laden with luggage and the telltale clothing rod stretching across the backseat. Cadillacs, SUVs, RVs and even a Maserati--they all had shirts swaying in those backseat closets. (Is this an unwritten rule?)

Unknown to us, we had joined the caravan of white-haired travelers heading back home to the North. Who are these peripetetic people? Much to my surprise, they are not predominantly Canadians and many aren't from the coldest states in the U.S. Curious? Here are some statistics from a survey done at the University of Florida:

Snowbird Statistics:

13.1% are New Yorkers
7.4% are Michiganders
6.7 % are from Ohio
5.8% are from Pennyslvania
5.5 % are Canadians.

Their average length of stay in Florida? 5 months.
The number of snowbirds? Approximately 920,000 in 2004.
Their average income? Over $100,000.

There you have it! Curiosity satisfied?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monday's Conversation At the Dentist

dentistes, originally uploaded by thomaseagle.

Receptionist: "How's your son?"
Me" "Great."
Receptionist: "Where's he studying?"
Me: "Savannah."
Receptionist: "Oh that's right. He's such a nice young man."
Me: "Thanks."
Receptionist: "Does he like it down there?"
Me: "Yes, but he's going to end up in a big city--New York or L.A. That's where the jobs are in his field."
Receptionist: "I'd hate to see him end up in a big city. He's too nice."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Love Donuts?

365 Project - day 65, originally uploaded by * ire *.

I was doing research for a food article when I stumbled across Dunkin Donut's latest contest. (Really! It's true. I only hang out at their store by the drive up window.) The winner of the Next Donut Contest wins $12,000 and the chance to have his/her donut produced as a limited edition. Twelve runners-up earn $1,200, a year's worth of donuts, and a trip for 2 to Braintree, MA to attend the Dunkin Donuts University bake off, when the winning creation is baked and tasted before a live audience. It couldn't be easier. All the ingredients are illustrated on their website and you just click to design yours, including filling, frosting, and topping. Mine is a cherry pie donut--Why not? I love cherry pie. What's yours going to be?

Try it at:
Dunkin Donuts

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Springs happens slowly and almost imperceptibly up north. First, the foot-thick sheath of ice on Lake Winnipesaukee starts to crack. Wider and wider patches of free flowing water start to appear near land at first and then in wider and wider arcs. As you can see from my photo shot this morning, the crack is widening. In about 2 weeks (mid-April I'd guess), we'll have "ice out"--the day when the SS Mount Washington, the pleasure cruise ship, can leave its mooring and head out for its first run of the season. By then, all the snow will be gone too--it's a lumpy mass at the end of our condo's parking lot and lingers in mounds in front of our decks. But there are less obvious signs too--like the budding of the evergreens and the first trill of the tree frogs. But slowly, slowly, we inch towards the warmth.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One City. Many Villages.

_Cotilleos-gossip ., originally uploaded by amparogue.

I love the sense of community in the city. If this strikes you as odd, here are some examples from our visit to New York this winter:

Scene 1:

R and I are getting on the elevator in a friend's building with at least 200 tenants. We're heading up to their apartment. A woman we don't know is already in the elevator waiting for the doors to close.

R says to me: "What floor do they live on?"
Me: "Four. I think. Or maybe 5?"
R: "It's 4." (He pushes the button.)
Woman in elevator: "Who are you going to see?"
Me: "The Levy's"
Woman: "Ann and Henry? 4-I. So they're back from Florida?"
R: "No they're still down there."

Scene 2: Same building, several days later.

Mrs. so-and-so is moving out. R and a tenant in the building see moving men carrying furniture out of the elevator and into a truck. He tells R: "5-J is moving out. It's taking all day. Four rooms of furniture in 3 rooms."

The same day. A different neighbor tells Alex in the laundry room:
"Apt 5-J is moving out. You wouldn't believe all the furniture. Four rooms of furniture in 3 rooms."

Scene 3:

Alex and I take the Long Island Railroad from Great Neck to B & H Photo in Manhattan. Now remember. This train transports millions of passengers every day. We're in B & H for a few hours when a man comes up to us.

Man: "You were on the train, weren't you? I recognized you."
Me: (puzzled, searching my memory and coming up with a vague recollection) "Oh, yes, that's right. I remember now."
Man: "Funny, isn't it? We both end up here."
Me gesturing at the store: "Yes. This is a great place, isn't it?"
Man: Nods.
Me: "So where are we going next?"

Those Lips

Segredo, originally uploaded by Lídia Ramalho.

On the streets and in the subways this winter in New York City, I picked up a lot of impressions and filed them away in notebooks or on camera. This time, it was lips.

This needs some explanation. In the gym, I'd see her working out. She was trim, athletic...her blonde hair caught up in a pony tail, swaying as she lifted weights. From the back, her taut muscles, trim waist and lean legs indicated she was in her 20's or 30's. But then, the moment of truth... She'd whirl around, dumb bells in hand, and I'd see her blooming botoxed lips in a face as rigid as a mask. Well, I'd think, she's half mummified already in her pursuit of eternal youth.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Risotto--Two Ways

There's such a thing as too many choices. Sometimes I don't mind--like the chance to have my decaf Dunkin Donuts with a shot of vanilla, light, 1 sugar---which they only get right about 25% of the time. But that's the price you pay for having so many options.

When I'm cooking for company, I'm happy to oblige those who are vegetarians or allergic to shellfish, but sometimes I feel put upon--like the night last week when I made risotto 2 ways (one for the vegetarians who didn't like onions or chicken broth and another for the carnivores with onions and chicken broth). All was fine until the dear someone I married wanted to know if I made it the way he wanted--with vegetable broth and onions. Oddio! As my Italian grandmother would say. What do I look like? A short-order cook? In the end, though, everyone was happy and the recipe came out just right. So now, I'll pass it along to you in 2 forms--one for vegetarians and the other for carnivores.

Risotto--2 Ways
(Serves 6-8 as a side dish)

1.5 cups of arborio rice
4 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 medium onion, diced
1 lb. of mushrooms (I used a mixture of mini portobellos and white)
1-2 clove(s) garlic, minced (optional)
1/4 cup white wine or more to taste. (A dry pinot grigio or chardonnay works well.)
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup shredded parmegiana cheese (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute the mushrooms, onions and garlic in the olive oil in a large frying pan on medium heat.

2. When the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are browned, add the uncooked rice. Stir for 2 minutes until it's lightly browned and coated with the oil. Turn down the temperature to medium-low.

3. Add the broth one cup at a time and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding and stirring while the rice cooks. If the rice starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, lower the temperature some more, add more liquid and stir again.

4. Taste the rice as it cooks. When about 15 minutes have passed and it begins to soften, add the white wine. Continue tasting and stirring until the rice is soft and becomes creamy, somewhere around 20 minutes. At that point, take it off the heat and stir in about 1/4 cup of shredded parmegiana cheese.

Serving suggestions for the carnivores: Pair this with a salad, Italian bread, and chicken piccata. For the vegetarians...just omit the chicken. In any case, enjoy!

Risotto--2 Ways on Foodistab

Friday, February 27, 2009


Tea kettle, originally uploaded by canbalci.

It took me just a second to say yes. A tea tasting at Dean & DeLuca hosted by TWG Tea? Of course, I'd go.

After all, I consider myself a tea aficionado. One might say I have more than a little knowledge on the subject. After all, I mail order tea from British importers because I can’t find my favorite brands locally. And I prepare it according to standard tea wisdom—boiling water poured into a warmed crockery pot filled with 2 teaspoons of tea, one for me and one for the pot, which is covered and left to stew for approximately 4 minutes. None of that insipid dunk-and-sip tea for me. I prefer the loose variety, especially black teas—Assam, English Breakfast, and Irish.

I've come a long way from the tea of my childhood—a feeble commercial brand with a bitter aftertaste, which turned as orange as a tropical sunset when the bag sat in the cup for too long. It was medicinal–used to sooth a sore throat—or it was a quaint custom reserved for visits to my Irish granny, who drank tea in a china cup and served cookies on a plate adorned with a paper doily.

In a word, I have evolved—or so I thought until last Thursday afternoon at Dean & DeLuca’s when I sampled TWG specialty teas blended with fragrant flowers, fruit, and spices from around the world. Maranda Barnes, the director and co-founder of TWG Tea, had flown in from Singapore on a mission to educate Americans about this beverage and the need for us to return to Asia to find the best possible teas, harvested from renowned gardens throughout India, China, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries.

Maranda wants to cultivate (so to speak) a new breed of American tea connoisseurs who are eager to enjoy exotic, premium teas at home or in tea salons. To this end, TWG produces over 600 varieties of tea, some blended specifically for the American palate. Their White House Tea, for example, is a white tea infused with roses, fruit and essential oils. It is sophisticated, light and balanced, with a lingering aftertaste of fennel and ripe berries. Another of my favorites is Tea 380, commissioned for Singapore Airlines. It is a blend of white and blue tea (oolong), flavored with flowers, fruit, vanilla and spice.

For me, it was a sensory experience—involving both smell and taste. Different parts of the palate are activated with each sip, something I had experienced when drinking wine. This was no accident. The teas are painstakingly blended to create layers of flavor, which highlight the taste of the tea but don’t overpower it. This in itself was a revelation.

I’m pleased to report that all the teas I sampled complimented the pastries pictured here. As we sipped and nibbled, we imagined a meal in which each course was paired with a different type of tea. Imagine it. Green, black, white, or oolong teas specially blended to highlight the flavors of each dish.

The good news for Maranda and other high-end tea companies is that American tea consumption is steadily rising and so is our interest in specialty teas, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. More and more Americans are turning to tea, attracted by its taste, cost, lower levels of caffeine (40 milligrams for a cup of black tea, less than half the amount for coffee), and its healthful benefits. But this is tempered with the Tea Associations' statistics that 85 percent of all our tea is iced and 65 percent of the tea brewed in the United States is prepared using tea bags. And speaking of tea bags, I learned that they contain the “dust” or dregs of the tea leaf.

These two features of American tea consumption have a long history, given that icing tea and putting it into convenient pouches or bags are American inventions dating from 1904. But Maranda reminds me that as Americans we need to reach back to our colonial roots when our ancestors, who were connoisseurs of fine tea, dumped their precious tea into the harbor as a measure of their resentment of British imperialism and the high import tax.

To that, I’d add that American tea drinkers who like the convenience of tea bags don’t have to sacrifice taste or freshness if they simply learn the rating system used by tea growers, which is often printed on tea boxes. The tea is ranked into 4 grades based on 2 criterion: the quality of the crop and the size of the leaf, which is whole, broken or ground. According to Le Palais des Thes, the highest whole leaf category is F.O.P. or flowery orange pekoe, the finest grade composed of the bud of the tea plant and the two leaves nesting around it. Orange doesn’t describe the color of the tea, but comes from the Dutch dynasty Orange Nassau. Pekoe is the Anglicization of the Chinese word “Pak-ho,” meaning “fine hair" or “down.” It refers to the closed bud, which resembles white down. The lowest grade--F. Fannings—is reserved for ground leaves or fannings, also known as dust. This is what typically goes into tea bags.

For those of you who would like to expand your tea horizons and sample TWG, it is currently available through Dean & DeLuca stores in the USA and online at Over the next few months, they’ll be adding selected classic teas, such as Darjeeling and Earl Grey. Take it from me--Your taste buds will thank you for it.

Additional photos by TWG Tea and the author.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Reservations

My favorite shot of the weekend. A restaurant in Grand Central Station. Taken with a Sigma macro lens 70-300 mm.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't Give Me This For Dinner

This picture reminds me of the meals I suffered through when I was young, growing up in the days when Saucy Susan shrimp cocktail was considered the height of fine dining, along with a hunk of Velveeta on a Ritz cracker. That bland slab of baked ham, frozen peas heated to lukewarm, and candied yams,glazed beyond recognition, make me shudder with nostalgia. So, that's why I turn into a sulky and bad-tempered child when I'm served a particularly bad meal at a restaurant, something that's happened twice in the past week.

In the first case, I was served up Singapore noodles with so much curry powder dumped on them, my lips turned numb. And in the second case, my onion and cheddar omelette was so oily that it practically slid off the plate.

I was insulted and disgusted. Didn't the chef even look at what he or she was dumping on the plate? Did he or she even taste the food? In both cases, I was tempted to take the plate back to the kitchen and demand exactly that. But reason took over. I complained to the waitresses. One of them shrugged and the other one giggled. Alright. I'm not Gordon Ramsey from "Kitchen Nightmares" and commanded no respect. But being food obsessed, I have to vent somewhere. So here are my 10 Commandments For Restaurant Owners.

1. Don't hover by the cash register. Go into the kitchen and see what your chefs are preparing. If you wouldn't eat it, neither will your customers.
2. Know your menu. Is it authentic? No self-respecting Greek restaurant owner within 100 miles of New York City (the American version of Athens) puts beets on their Greek salad, so don't let your chef in New Hampshire do it.
3. If you own a pizzaria, let's say, don't start out using fresh mozzarella when you first open the restaurant and then switch to the cheap yellow variety that's as glossy as a pool of melted butter. Your customers will notice.
4. Stale bread is still stale bread even if it's hidden at the bottom of the bread basket.
5. If you're an absentee owner, chances are pretty good that your staff will take the night off when you're not there. And your customers won't like it.
6. The time between ordering the food and the arrival of the food is proportional to the quality of the meal.
7. Chefs who love artichokes, for example, should not be allowed to put that ingredient in the majority of the entrees. (To wit, that Italian restaurant in Meredith, New Hampshire, which shall remain nameless.)
8. If the restaurant is called "Cucina Bella," for example,the menu should not offer sushi. (This is actually what happened in a so-called Italian restaurant in the North End in Boston.) In other words, the promise of the name, decor, and menu have to jibe with what is actually delivered to the table.
9. Eggs are eggs, even if they're served with Hollandaise sauce. So, the customer is going to resent it if you charge $12.00 for them. The same is true for pizza. Because most customers have a ceiling price for certain foods,$25.00 for one pizza pie is going to feel like robbery.
10. Customers appreciate a clean restaurant, but we can't stand when the waitstaff vigorously spritz the table right next us while we're eating.

And above all else, respect the customer. If don't, your restaurant will fail. That much is certain.

Photograph "Demon Child" originally uploaded by: Ms.BlueSky on

Friday, January 30, 2009

What Would Shaun Sheep Say?

I love that line from The Sopranos. Corrado "Junior" Soprano says to Tony, “We’re dropping like flies.”

Tony tells him, “It’s all that charcoal broiled meat you people ate.”

Uncle Junior replies, “Nobody told us ‘til the 80’s.”

No doubt too much of a good thing is dangerous to your health. That goes for alcohol or bacon or even ice cream. I consider myself relatively health-conscious. I exercise nearly every day, watch my weight, and take vitamins, but everyone has their limits. My weakness…flavor. I want to eat food that is flavorful and delicious and somehow in my head this does not jibe with vegetarianism. I hate to climb on any diet bandwagon. I scoff at Atkins Diet, the South Beach, and even Jenny Craig. So when R dropped his little bombshell that he was becoming a vegetarian, I was--shall we say--resistant. "How long will this last? 24 hours?" I quipped, given that R doesn’t particularly like vegetables. And how was I supposed to cook anything remotely flavorful given that I was working with a limited list of ingredients and excluding meat or fish of any kind (nothing with a face or a mother, he said). So, with great trepidation, I reluctantly climbed on the bandwagon. It's been three weeks now, and I must say, it’s not as bad as I expected. In fact, I’m trying recipes that I’d still make even after he sees the error of his ways and repents. It still feels like a punishment to me. But when the urge for meat overpowers me I make my pasta with meat sauce or chili with turkey meat. Moderation is still my watchword, as well as daily exercise.

Over the next few posts, I'll highlight the recipes that worked for both of us and provide a satisfying change from our usual meat dishes without sacrificing flavor. Stay tuned!

The Royal Sheep - Rhönschaf: Originally uploaded by Ben on

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What's Inside Your Fridge?

Coming home after a long absence, I yank open the refrigerator and peer inside at the unfamiliar bag of grapes or leftover container of rice, wondering if indeed Goldilocks had dropped by and rearranged the contents. Unlike the editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine who displayed the contents of his refrigerator in the January/February issue, revealing pristine rows of neatly stacked packages and containers, my fridge is chaotic. Above all else, it is a monument to condiments, a kingdom of barbecue sauce (2 bottles), soy sauce (2 bottles), teriyaki, and hoisin. Mayo and mustard (3 kinds, one with champagne) share shelf space with maple syrup (one imitation and the other genuine), capers (2 bottles), vinegar (3 kinds), and olives (Spanish with pimento and kalamata). Oh, it's a staggering collection.

Before I unpack my new groceries, I reorganize and rearrange, vowing to use up the surplus once again until I end up with a refrigerator that even Martha Stewart would be proud of. Then again, like all new year resolutions, this one will likely be just as foolish and will soon be discarded like the vow to give up chocolate. But for a moment, I'm buoyed up with a sense of righteous purpose like the leaders of an odd religious sect, determined to root out sloth and other guilty sins in the kitchen.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sylvia's Restaurant

"How can you stay in Harlem and not go to Sylvia's?" our friend John said to us a few weeks ago. He's right. Sylvia's has been a Harlem mecca for legendary Southern-style home cooking since the 1960's. Contrite and perpetually hungry, we agreed to go.

Sylvia's Restaurant at 328 Lenox Avenue is owned and operated by the Woods family. Sylvia and Herbert, who met in a bean field when they were eleven and twelve years old, married in 1943, and had four children. In 1962, they opened Sylvia's Restaurant in a storefront on Lenox Avenue with enough room to feed 35 people. Now it occupies nearly a city block and can seat up to 450 people. Since its inception, it has been a family-run place guided by the motto of love for God, love for family, love of good food, and dedication to hard work.

It's an eclectic place with counter service and takeout in one room, which opens into larger,more formal dining rooms with pale green walls and signed portraits of celebrities who want to be immortalized as fans of the ribs and chicken. R took one look at the menu and found a perfect meal--smothered chicken served with a waffle. "A waffle?" I said and he replied, "How can anything with a waffle be bad?" Good point. The chicken, covered in brown gravy, was moist and succulent and fell off the bone. And the waffle was perfect, according to R.

I opted for the ribs, a specialty of the house, and so did John and Joyce. As you can see in the photo, she clearly enjoyed her choice. The meat was succulent and delicious and slathered with Sylvia's sauce, a famous savory blend of tomatoes and pungent spices. Delicious. Aly, who opted for a meatless meal, chose 4 side dishes--which included candied yams, collard greens,string beans, macaroni & cheese, garlic mashed potatoes, and black-eyed peas.

Although I wasn't thrilled with the collard greens, I absolutely loved the corn bread, which was hot and buttery, and melted in my mouth, just like the desserts, which we sampled, despite claiming that we couldn't eat another bite. The peach cobbler and banana bread pudding were fantastic. And so was the fried chicken, and turkey judging from the satisfied smiles of the couple next to us. Well, we'll just have to wait for our next visit.

Sylvia's Restaurant
328 Lenox Avenue near the corner of 127th Street
Harlem, NY

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lighting Up

I don't smoke... thanks, originally uploaded by ƒreg.

I love these vignettes that randomly happen on the street in New York, these flashes of a person’s life that are crystallized in one brief moment. Here’s one I picked up the other day when R and I were walking down Broadway. We were passing a woman who was getting a light from a man on the street. When she straightened up and started puffing on her cigarette, we passed her and I said to Rich:

Me: That smells like pot.

Woman: (overhears me) It is.

Me: Enjoy it.

Woman: I will. This stuff is good. Real good. And I need it. (Laughs)