Sunday, May 30, 2010

SICILIAN SUNDAY DINNERS: FATHER DAUGHTER DINNER


     I have been seeing a lot of guys on the subway lately with bouquets in their fidgety hands, anxiously waiting to see their girlfriends, and while I want to be the person who doesn't care about fussy things like flowers and little gifts, I have to be honest, I give these guys subtle nods of approval to say, "you did good, dude."
    I know its sappy, but getting flowers does make you feel loved and cared for. Its like, "awwwwwweee! how sweeeeet!" Its so easy to instantly turn me into a mush.
    That is how I felt when I came home afterwork to find a gorgeous window basket filled with an assortment of herbs left at my door by Rocco, my dad. He went all over Queens to different stores to get the exact herb mix to make me my beautiful gift. He planted: oregano, rosemary, basil, and parsley. The occasion: no occasion, just because he is my dad and he loves me. Thanks Dad, I love you!
     Rocco is a really amazing cook, and for our Father Daughter Dinner he came over and cooked me a delicious plate of Ravioli in a Creamy Artichoke, Asparagus and Sweet Pea Sauce with Pancetta. It was so delicious. He sauteed pancetta and shallots, then added the asparagus, peas and artichokes, some cream, reduced it, poured it over cheese filled ravioli and finished it with shaved pecorino romano.
     He has been cooking for me all my life and nothing tastes like his food. I think its because he puts a generous amount of Sicilian craziness in it. Its pure comfort for me. And he makes it look so easy. His motto is: simple and fresh quality ingredients. And of course, "OLIVE OIL!" He has a store of olive oil in the basement (like 20 liters) for the apocalypse. Cheers! ... until 2012!

Happy Memorial Day!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LOCAL WEDNESDAYS*: $12 & A DREAM

    This is the third time I lost my debit card. This year. I am not sure how I haven't had my identity stolen. So it was Wednesday, I needed to get my local fix and I only had $12 in my pocket and no way to get any more cash. I like a challenge.

Union Square Farmer's Market:
Homemade Pasta: $4
Spinach: $3
Mushrooms: $3
Shallots: $2

Local meal for $12: $12

     With my finds I made a very simple and quick to prepare Pasta with Caramelized Button Mushrooms and Fresh Spinach.
     I sauteed my shallots with butter and olive oil, then added my mushrooms. No salt until they are tender. I sauteed everything on high heat. Meanwhile I cooked my pasta and reserved some of the starch water. Once the mushrooms cooked down, I added some pasta water and a dash of vinegar and let it reduce. Once reduced, I added my cooked pasta to the mushroom pan and turned the heat off, then added my fresh spinach, which wilted in the heat. I added a touch of butter at the end, plus some shaved pecorino cheese. All local.

*All ingredients in this recipe were bought locally.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

SICILIAN SUNDAY DINNERS: SAUSAGE PARTY!

    I will do my best to avoid making shamelessly perverted puns in the post. We literally had a sausage party to celebrate Julie's sudden return to the world of meat eating. Hear that vegetarians? We got one back! And this time it wasn't with bacon.     
I love meat, but when it comes to cooking, meat is definitely not my specialty. I leans toward making vegetables, beans, pasta, etc. So when Julie looked at me with those big brown eyes and said, "Feed me meat, bitch!" I turned to the meat I know best: SAUSAGE! 
      Growing up, we were all about the spiral sausage stuffed with the likes of parmesan and fennel. Even the hot dog, a sausage in its own right, is really one of the most delicious summer treats ever.   
  I finally visited the Meat Hook, a carnivore mecca. Aside from the amazing butcher counter, you can get lost in there. They sell anything you need to bake or cook or ferment or stuff anything. I was getting dizzy looking at all the great stuff. Focus: sausage.
 I decided to get a little bit of everything: Lamb Rosemary, Lamb Merguez, Rabbit, Chorizo and Parmesan and Parsley. Julie didn't have a grill so we broiled them and they turned out great.
     
 I think Julie was a little scared of sausage platter I presented to her. To accompany the sausage, we had a gigantic cheese plate, which is a Julie specialty, really great bread that we smothered in Ramp Butter, which I got at the Greenpoint Food Market earlier that day, olives and one of the most fantastic salads ever.
 
The dressing was the secret weapon: mashed onions, mayo, avocado, olive oil, tomatoes, lemon juice, olives, salt and pepper, and soy sauce. It blew my mind.
     The winner of the sausage contest was by far the rabbit sausage, the flavor was phenomenal and it was so nice and juicy. We also liked the chorizo a lot. It was nice and spicy. And lamb sausage is always really good.

     Julie was such a good little convert and tried each and every sausage, even the pork ones which she was on the fence about. I think she will keep playing on the meat team.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everyday Is A Holiday Vintage Vacation Swap!!!


      Swaps are so much fun and Jenny from Everyday is a Holiday Blog is probably the funnest most creative person ever to host a swap ever! I secretly hope she is my swap partner! So check out her awesome blog and her awesomely sweet artwork and if you love to shop and want to get some really fun gifts in the mail participate in the Vintage Vacation Swap! 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

LOCAL WEDNESDAYS*: "WE MUST GRAZE WHERE WE ARE TIED."

    
This Local Wednesdays post is about choices. I borrowed a book from Arica called Breath, Eyes, Memory written by Edwidge Danticat about a young Haitian girl named Sophie who moves to New York and after some struggle returns to her native country. When she expresses to her aunt that she wishes she never lefte Haiti, her aunt says, "We must graze where we are tied." Some things are beyond our control. But we must make do with what we have.

I often struggle with being a native New Yorker, because I have small town syndrome in the biggest city in the world. Most people I know are not from here. These adventurers makes me feel like maybe I too should go live somewhere else, experience a different city and a new way of life, but sometimes I feel like I don't have a choice, as if I am tied to this city, because of my job and my loved ones.
     So while I am here, I might as well take advantage of what this awesome city has to offer. With the great Spring weather we've been having, I really feel like I have been enjoying this town. Riding my bike all over the city and going to great outdoor events, like the recent Franklin Street Immersion and the upcoming Greenpoint Food Market, at least I am venturing out of Queens a bit.
    And one choice we all have no matter where we are tied is to eat locally. Sure we are all busy, we have to order lunch in and eat dinner out and we don't always have time to cook. But, even if one meal per week we make is local, we are making a big difference.
    With each meal I present on my Local Wednesdays, I am trying to show that the same expensive meal you can eat out, you can probably make at home with local ingredients and while you're at it save money, help your local community and the environment. Those are good choices.
    This week I made Seared Scallops on Mustard Greens with Bacon Wrapped Asparagus.
    First wrap your asparagus with bacon and roast until the bacon is crisp and the asparagus is soft in a 450 degree oven. Meanwhile, sautee the mustard greens in olive oil with some sliced onions and some hot red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.
    The last step is to season the scallops with salt and pepper and sear them on both sides in butter or olive oil in a very hot heavy pan, preferably cast iron, just enough to brown on each side, but don't cook too long or they become rubbery. Serve the scallops over the mustard greens and the asparagus on the side.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

SICILIAN SUNDAY DINNERS: DERBY DAY AT CHAZ AND MART'S

    Another Sicilian Sunday Dinner edition that was neither Sicilian nor on Sunday but plenty of fun and yum. Charles and Martin had a Kentucky Derby Day party on their new deck overlooking their gorgeous property in the Catskills. Perfect weather, fancy hats, southern comfort food and mint juleps, along with the graciousness of our hosts and the cheer of friends and neighbors made it a perfect day for an afternoon party in the mountains.
    
Let's start with the cocktail: the mint julep, which is for all intensive purposes a whiskey mojito. I am sold. Kentucky bourbon and mint infused simple syrup on ice, garnished with mint leaves dusted in powdered sugar. This drink is a winner. Take it easy though, they are sweet and strong.
    
Derby Day was a family tradition for Mart's family and every year they sent away for official Kentucky Derby highball glasses, so he lined up rows and rows to adorn the party.
    Charles and Mart and Kathy and Steph worked hard the day before preparing so many delicious dishes. When I walked in the door I could not help but notice the beautiful aroma of smoked pork.

     Aside from the irresistible devils on horseback, which is a date stuffed with an almond, then baked wrapped in bacon, the boys were smoking ribs in the back. And if that wasn't enough pork, they made pulled pork sliders on potato buns. Those were special little sandwiches with a nice sweet and spicy barbeque flavor. They had smoked the pork the day before for six hours until it was falling off the bone.
   
Steph made a tower of my favorite: deviled eggs. We were all commenting how our limits for fried eggs is about two eggs, but how we can eat unlimited amounts of deviled eggs. Deviled eggs really remind me of my Grandma Isabelle. They were her specialty.
   
Kathy made the most delicious biscuits that we smothered in honey from Chaz's bee hives and melted butter. We all agreed we basically have no limit on the amount of those we can eat. She also made the most delicious mac and cheese covered in toasted breadcrumbs.
   A main event was Southern Fried Chicken. Since I just love deep frying, I helped Mart with this. We made a mean frying team, I must say. It was delicious. The chicken was first soaked in buttermilk then dredged in flour, corn starch, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper. The chicken breasts were gigantic so after we fried them we put them in the oven for a bit to finish cooking through. Crispy and fried and juicy and succulent. You can't go wrong and wouldn't believe how easy they are to make.
   It finally was betting time. With all the delicious food, we almost forgot why we were there. The race! Those horses were remarkable and I love their little companion ponies that keep them calm. I'm such a sucker for love, even pony love. We pooled our bets and whomever picked the winner won the pot and if no one picked the winner, then the money was to be donated to the local animal shelter. Mart won! Can you say fix!
   Speaking of little animals there were a lot of cute poochies at the party whose adorable portraits I couldn't help but share.
   What's a Derby Day Party without southern desserts? Ms. Kathy baker, who is one of the most talented bakers I know, made Red Velvet Cupcakes, Pecan Pie and Peach Crumble. She is one serious lady and the ease with which she whips these dishes up is remarkable. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LOCAL WEDNESDAYS*: ROASTED POTATO LEEK SOUP WITH ARUGULA

     I have free cable! Actually, I have one free cable channel: the food network! I know for all you foodies, the food network is like Disney Land, super cheesey, but I love it and over the years have learned so many great trick and techniques from absorbing hour after hour of cooking shows. Watching is learning.
     I love every show, except Bobby Flay, I kind of think he is douchey a little. I just think that throw-down show is so rude. Its like, "Hi. You have been perfecting pies your whole life. Your entire identity is making pies and everyone in your small town loves you for this. Well, I am going to figure out, in my a-hole test kitchen, how to make a pie better than you, in like one day, then I am going to come to your hood and embarrass you in front of all your friends and family!" Needless to say, I love it when he gets his ass whipped, which isn't often enough.
    So let's talk about Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. She is a total Hamptons snob and I want to steal her life. This is her everyday, "I'm gonna wake up and open my blinds in my big fat giant house and wow, its the perfect day again, everything is in bloom, then I'm going to buy some really gourmet shit while I stroll around the Hamptons because I can do that because I don't have to work except cook for my cooking show, then I am going to take all this gourmet shit home, make the best meal ever, go into my killer sick garden to get some gorgeous flowers for the table, invite all my gay friends over and have an awesome candle lit dinner party on my awesome deck or better yet, pack it up in cute chinese food take-out containers and let's have dinner on the beach while the sun is setting."
    This blogger lives in a cave in Queens and watches this and wonders, what am I doing wrong with my life? Ina save me!
    I think that Markus has a crush on Ina. He at least has a love jones for her food and after we drooled watching her make this amazing Roasted Potato Leek Soup with Arugula, he wanted to give it a shot. I think he also loves any excuse to use the hand blender; it is an awesome device.
    We had everything we needed in our little winter share box plus some greens from the Farmer's Market. This recipe is really simple and hard to screw up. You roast the leeks and potatoes until they are caramelized, then throw the arugula in there for a few minutes. Scrape up the good bits from the bottom of the pan with some white wine. Add some stock and blend it all. Add some creme fraiche (we used cream cheese and I snuck in some extra butter) more wine and a ton of parmesan cheese. We didn't caramelize shallots as a crispy topping, but we should have! This soup was excellent. Thanks Ina, free cable and Markus for this keeper!
*All ingredients from this post are from local season produce.

Monday, May 10, 2010

(NOT) SICILIAN SUNDAY (NOT) DINNER

    Have you ever met the two loveliest people, who are wonderful in their own right but also happen to be absolutely perfectly matched for each other? Meet Marcin and Sabrina. I totally group hugged them last time we hung out because I love them both so much! They are just oozing with goodness and excitement.
    
   On Sunday they invited the "photo crew" over for brunch. You may be asking: why are you posting this as a Sicilian Sunday Dinner installment? Answer: eating is about bringing people together, so although my Sicilian Sunday Dinners are usually a gigantic Sicilian meals prepared by me for you, its more importantly about sharing food, any great food with people we care about, so sometimes my posts will not be Sicilian, but they will be great.
   Everyone took advantage of the glorious weather and we all rode our bikes to Marcin and Sabrina's new fantastic loft in Brooklyn that will also serve as a photo studio space. (Anyone need portraits?) The light in their space was just magnificent. And the light on the mimosas really made me want to drink the mimosas. 
   
    The spread of food was so fresh and so delicious. You name it: eggs, avocados, fresh tomatoes, breads, cheese, fruit, polish sausage, hummus, spinach salad. You know when you go out to brunch and want everything on the menu, but can't order everything, well this spread was basically everything you want and could have it all! Sweet, salty, savory. All delicious and very light and healthy, which is a good feeling. Usually going out for brunch leaves me feeling full and icky.
    
    The stars of the show were Sabrina's Spinach and Cheese Empanadas. Wow! I think I ate thirty and took fifty to go. The crust was perfect and the filling was divine and they were baked and not heavy, so I could eat a lot of them.
   
    The second reason why its funner to enjoy brunch at a friend's house rather than go out is brunch dessert! When I came to brunch I initially loved Sabrina; she is a cool laid back chick. But after I tried her Chocolate Mousse Ice Cream Cake, she became my favorite person in the world. You know when you put something delicious in your mouth and its so good you become retarded? Like, "uuuuuuhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmm." You can't form sentences, you can only make primitive sounds. Thats the effect this cake had on me. And the next piece. And the next piece. Pure decadence.
    
    Along with the mousse we enjoyed a Polish Honey Liqueur called Krupnik. And we come to the third reason why brunching at home is better than going out. Desserts and drinks and the best company.

    Thanks Marcin and Sabrina for the wonderful afternoon! Group hug!

Sabrina's Empanadas:

Dough: I buy them, brand "LA SALTE√ĎA" (look like this http://www.fourlangwebprogram.com/fourlang/afbeeldingen/es/Tapas_para_empanadas.jpg)
-Filling:
-White Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
pepper, salt and nutmeg (for me this make the special falvor)
when sauce is done, add the spinach, put some filling (like a spoon) on dough and then press corners to close, should look like half moon

bake for 20 min more or less


Chocolate Mousse Cake:
8 eggs


butter (250g)
1 heavy cream 250ml
8 spoons sugar
150 gr chocolate

mix the yolk with the sugar until whiteish
melt chocolate and butter together
when ready and at room temperature, mix w yolk and sugar
mix egg white until (link to this img dont know how u call this in english
http://www.donpostre.com/wp-content/uploads/a_punto_de_nieve-300x263.jpg)
then mix with chocolate carefully
bake 1/4 of the mix for 15min (this will be base of the cake)
the 3/4 of what is left mix with the heavy cream (which had been mixed with some vanilla) then add to the base
the best is over night fridge
then enjoy!!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

LOCAL WEDNESDAYS*: THE GRASS-FED BURGER

     Sometimes, just sometimes, I crave a meaty juicy burger, ala Shake Shack, but meat these days is scary. So scary. For those of you who like to believe that the journey of a piece of meat is from the styrofoam wrapper in the meat isle, onto your grill then into your mouth, read no further, but if you're like me, and still sometimes think that Freddy is in your closet, then read on. Feed lots. Cows, that you eat, stand up to their knees in their own you know what. Not colorful party balloons. Yum! E-Coli! Some antibiotics will make it all better. Not quite. Then, after slaughter, all that delicious ground meat, which is often so polluted that they "clean" it with ammonia, is pooled into giant vats and processed along with the meat from hundreds of different cows. They do that with milk, too. Cringe. Now I understand why people are vegetarians. Meat can be gross and scary! 
     But it doesn't have to be. If you buy meat from a reliable farm, where the cows are grass-fed and are given sunlight and exercise, then meat can be good again. Not to mention healthy for you and not so bad for the environment. Do these places exist? When I go to Pennsylvania, I see with mine own eyes cows grazing in pastures. Its out there! I promise. Talk to the beef farmer at your farmer's market where accountability does exist. 
     So the grass-fed burger: I started out with frying some bacon from Tamarack Hollow Farm where the pigs, as Joel Salatin puts it, "are allowed to be pigs." Set the bacon aside. Then in the bacon fat I fried chopped onions. I mixed that in with the grass-fed ground meat from New York Beef, plus some soy sauce and salt and pepper, formed my patties and it was onto the grill. I topped my burger with some goat cheddar cheese from Patches of Star Dairy and slapped it on a bun. Some fried potatoes from Garden of Eden and some arugula from Migliorelli Farm, and I had my burger fix. It was damn good and grassy and it didn't leave me feeling like I was digesting a brick. Burgers are good again.  

*Every ingredient in this post (aside for seasoning) is from local produce I got from my CSA share or from the Union Square Farmer's Market

Sunday, May 2, 2010

SICILIAN SUNDAY DINNER: NONNA IS A GANGSTA PARTY!

    I did it! I invited people over to my house for a party, and they actually came, and they all (somehow) fit, and it was a lot of fun. Now I broke the party seal, just in time for the nice weather. I am happy my first party was to celebrate the first birthday of my baby, this blog.
   I think everyone came because they were curious about the surprise guest: Nonna! She made a tray of ziti, and if you read how my family ruined easter, a tray of ziti from Nonna is a funny inside joke, which my parents almost got divorced over. Nonna loved hanging out with all the younger peeps. I don't think she wanted to leave. Did you know Nonna is a gangster? Look at that pose, rocking her animal print pimp cane! What?
    "Jane, I made-uh the meat bawls. Jane, try-uh one meat bawl." She is a meat ball pusher, but I didn't even get one meat bawl!
    Nonna wasn't the only guest who made goodies. Markus made some delicious deviled eggs. And we learned the hard way. When making deviled eggs, use old eggs. Since we are such Farmer's Market snobs, we get really fresh hatched eggs, which means the membrane (that transparent film between the white and the shell) isn't fully formed, so when you try to peel the hard boiled eggs, its a major disaster. Use eggs at least 5 days old. I hate to say it but super market eggs make the perfect deviled eggs. Either way, they tasted perfect, and really ended up looking awesome on Grandma Isabelle's old fashioned deviled egg tray.
    Cousin Francesca made what I am calling Salami Criossants and really delicious Rosemary Foccaccia and Marcy made the Eggplant Caponata, what is her signature dish.
  
    Sadly, Rocco couldn't make it; he was stuck in Italy because of the volcanic ash cloud (poor baby!).
    For our cocktail, Tim the bartender served "Dirty Sicilians" which is a take on the White Russian, but with almond milk instead of cow milk. A vegan cocktail. Delicious.
    
Check out this spread! For appetizers I served: olives, fresh mozzarella, roasted red pepper salad, the deviled eggs, foccaccia, salami croissants and the caponata. The show stealers: RICE BALLS! This was my first try and I nailed it. I made two types: grass-fed meat sauce filled and fresh mozzarella filled. The cheese filled were the crowd faves. I can't wait to make these again. Its a lot of prep and steps but so worth it.
    
For the second wave I served: market Sweet Italian Sausage with Peppers, Onions and Potatoes, Nonna's Baked Ziti, Penne with Tomato Basil Sauce, Roasted Artichokes and Broccoli Rabe.
   
   Dessert: Red Velvet Cupcakes (not Sicilian, but I'm not all Sicilian (thank God!) and prefer Good Old American Bakes Goods), Rainbow Cookies, and Pignoli Cookies from Catalano's Bakery.
   This is what life is all about: good company and good food. Thanks to everyone who made it to Queens; I know that M train is a hassle but you all made it a spectacular party!