Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving Cooking

 This was my first year co-hosting Thanksgiving dinner! Here are a few highlights:

Sausage cornbread stuffing:
Brown sausage in large skillet. Saute onions, carrots and celery in drippings with salt, pepper, cajun seasoning and fresh thyme. Boil cubed cornbread until fluffy and then toss with sausage and vegetables; adjust seasoning and garnish with parsley.

Healthy pumpkin pie:
I learned from making this pumpkin pie that organic pumpkin puree (I used Trader Joe's brand) has much more liquid than the generic, so the pie batter came out much wetter than usual! Anticipate this when making healthier pumpkin pie, and adjust other ingredients accordingly.

Rustic-themed tablescape:

We also made cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, butternut squash roasted two ways (sweet & savory), biscuits, and gravy. Oh, and turkey!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I've wanted to make homemade gnocchi for years, and dating an Italian I knew that if I could pull this one off, then I'm officially inaugurated as a real Italian cook. So one Sunday afternoon my good friend and I set out to achieve our dream: making gnocchi! Here's how we did it:

1) Peel and boil the potatoes. (In this case, a couple pounds. We made a lot.)
2) Let the potatoes cool slightly and then mash them in a potato ricer. If you don't have a ricer then you can mash them manually, but I found that this nifty device gave the potato the right fluffy consistency that you want in gnocchi.

3) Next crack the eggs in flour, and begin to combine with the potatoes to form the dough.

4) When the dough is near play-dough consistency, roll into a log and use a knife to cut into pieces. *Note: remember to flour your work surface so the dough doesn't stick!

Me rolling dough

5) Press the tines of a fork into the gnocchi pieces to make indentations. (I have no idea if this has any practical purpose, or if it's just for aesthetics.)


I also made pumpkin gnocchi, using sweet potatoes and a roasted sugar pumpkin in place of the traditional white/yellow potatoes. This dough was wetter, so I rolled the gnocchi in more flour to keep from sticking:

6) Next drop the gnocchi into the pot of boiling water to cook, for only a few minutes each. When the gnocchi are ready they rise to float to the surface of the pot; fish them out with a ladle or a spider and transfer them to saute in your sauce of choice.


We sauteed the pumpkin gnocchi in sage butter:

 Then served our festive fall meal:

The classic gnocchi we served with a beef bolognese:

And finished with a salted caramel apple pie I made for dessert:

Gnocchi success.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Garden at the Cellar

Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge is a hidden gem. It's a tiny little place tucked away in a less-commercial block of Mass., so nondescript you might walk past without noticing it. It's above a dive bar, next to a wine shop, a gastropub-style restaurant. Inside it's understated brilliance: with a couple of tables lined up by a wood-paneled bar, an exposed brick wall behind the booths, the ambience is cozy and the food is fantastic.

For appetizers we started with the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, one of my favorite snacks that I've tried all over the city (Brick and Mortar in Central Square and the Regal Beagle in Coolidge Corner also serve these incredible confections.) Next I had to have the beet slider:

I swear it's all veg, but tasted like a little burger.

For my entree I had the caramelized scallops over roasted butternut squash, topped with pickled radish and toasted pumpkin seeds:

The scallops were perfectly cooked, with the savory golden crust that paired perfectly with the sweet creaminess of the squash and the crunch of the pumpkin seeds - the flavors melded in every bite.

We got a number of small plates for the table to share so I was able to taste a number of different dishes, and all were great: lobster tempura, roasted pesto cauliflower, truffled mushroom flatbread with herb-whipped ricotta, roasted garlic, arugula, and lamb with lentils and curried carrot puree. The glazed shortrib came out late (served with a turnip puree, brussels sprouts, and crispy shallots), which was unfortunate mostly because it was so delicious when it arrived. Between the inventive cocktail menu and interesting food, we liked every single part of the meal, so we were disappointed to find there was no dessert menu. Because had there been, despite being stuffed to the brim, we definitely would have ordered dessert, since no doubt it would have been amazing, too.

I recommend this restaurant for a romantic dinner date, a girls night out, or a place to bring family visiting, as I did. 5 stars.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Parents Weekend

My parents came up to visit Columbus Day weekend to get some New England fall foliage, and of course, eat some good food. It's no secret that fall is one of my favorite times to cook, with the abundance of autumnal produce, so I enjoyed cooking for our house guests. For lunches I made:

Wild mushroom and gouda tart 

Served warm with baby arugula:

We went up to Brattleboro, Vermont, and I had a field day at the Brattleboro Farmer's Market. With live fiddle music, crafts, and an assortment of exotic food (for lunch we had West African curry) in addition to the vast selection of produce, apple cider, baked goods, and local wines and ciders - not to mention the awesome eccentric locals - it felt to me more like a hippie Renaissance festival than just a market. I loved it.
Gorgeous beets at the farmer's market

We rounded out our Vermont day with a stop at Hidden Valley Maple for some authentic Vermont maple syrup, and a visit to Grafton Cheese to sample the sharp cheddars (and then a much-needed hike.) For dinner I made roasted root vegetables:

Heirloom carrots, turnips, parsnips, and purple potatoes

Maple-glazed sea bass over walnut arugula:

And pan-seared halibut with fresh herbs:

Served with a fall cocktail made from the cranberry wine (we bought at the farmer's market) and prosecco. A fall feast!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cast Iron Skillet Cooking

My Grandma gave me a cast iron skillet as a housewarming gift and it's officially my new favorite toy. I'm obsessed with it - and am now experimenting with all the things it can do (besides cook a mean steak.) Here are some of the things I've done so far:

Iranian saffron roasted chicken with carrots and apricots. This is my attempt at a recipe my friend Nassim made for us during my trip to Qatar (my first homemade Iranian meal, so good!) - I couldn't pretend to replicate hers, but this was at least a tribute. I used real saffron I brought back from Egypt and braised the chicken thighs in the infused stock, allowing the carrots and apricots to caramelize and add a bit of sweetness to the savory dish. I served it alongside (brown) basmati rice, and finished the meal with tea.

Then for a more Spanish-style meal:

Queso fundido with spicy chorizo, caramelized onions, wild mushrooms, fresh thyme, and at the last minute I threw in some fresh green heirloom tomatoes on top for more color. I sauteed the vegetables until soft on the stove top and then added the cheese, broiling in the oven until bubbly on top. I served the dish with toasted flour tortillas and lime, and we just ate right out of the skillet. Comfort food to the max.

Next I plan on baking in the cast iron skillet, to use it in a whole new way!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cooking in my new kitchen

This is my third kitchen since I started this blog, and while it's admittedly smaller than the previous two, it's still a great kitchen in my mind:

Here are some meals I've cooked up in the new kitchen!

Inaugural meal (okay, the first meal we cooked the first night in the new apartment was just pasta with tomato sauce, because that's all we had in the house):

 Sicilian swordfish:

Drawing on the flavors we got to taste on our trip to Sicily earlier this summer, I pan-seared swordfish with fresh cherry tomatoes - red and yellow - onions, olives, capers, and herbs. The juicy tomatoes and briny olives and capers developed into a complex sauce that brought me back to the Italian island!

First dish I cooked in our new cephalon pan: pesto bulgur wheat with sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, and fava beans, topped with shaved parmesan:

Okay I realize this looks like slop. Sometimes we joke that I should have a blog called "Vomit on a plate" since so much of the food we like to cook looks that way. But I swear it was delicious!

Fall is setting in and as usual I'm obsessed with squash. Here's my sauteed spaghetti squash with tomato basil mushroom sauce, salami, and shaved parmesan:

I used the fresh basil from my herb "garden" (potted plants on the windowsill ... that's city living for you.) More creative fall produce ideas to come!

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I love beets. I realize that may seem a strange thing to love, but I really do. I learned to like beets pretty late in life, but now I've embraced them as an awesome addition to salads, roasted as a side, or, as I tried for the first time this summer: grilled.

Grilling beets was something I'd wanted to try for a while. It's pretty simple - you simply drizzle beets in a little olive oil, add some sea salt, wrap in aluminum foil, and place on the grill until they're tender. The most cumbersome part of the process is peeling the beets beforehand - I recommend using gloves (or in my case, putting my hand in a plastic bag) while peeling, otherwise you'll end up looking like something out of a slasher movie afterwards. We had our summer meal with grilled corn and beets out on the front porch:

I'd gotten a few pounds of beets from the farmer's market and we grilled them all, so there were leftovers. I sliced the remaining beets to use in a salad with mixed greens, walnuts, goat cheese, strawberries, and cherries:

Like glistening jewels. Then I was on such a beet kick that when I spotted golden beets at a market a few weeks later, I had to get those as well:

Golden beets have a milder, more mellow flavor than the red rubies, so the contrast of using both in a salad is very nice. For those who think they don't like beets - play around with them. Roast them, grill them, serve them warm or with cheese - I guarantee you'll soon realize that beets are a lot sweeter than you think!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Feasting in Abruzzo

Abruzzo is a region of central Italy, between Rome and the Adriatic. Though less famous to outsiders than Tuscany, Abruzzo is renowned among Italians for great wine and food. And my visit didn't disappoint.

My first dinner was in the wine cellar:

The main course of the meal was a typical dish of Abruzzo, scripelle, (like crepes filled with savory sauces) with a light zucchini filling:

Then I went to a wedding with ten courses of food all prepared by the chef of the Palazzo Baronale Masciarelli, so I was treated to dish after dish of the best of Abruzzo. First came the antipasti (appetizers):

Dozens of tarts, crostini, polpette, tartare, so many choices I lost count. After having wine and appetizers by the castle we went to the dining room for the sit-down dinner. The first course was a cauliflower cream soup with mini profiterol:

Next came the primi pasta courses - there were two! First the chitarra with a saffron-infused lemon sauce and edible flowers:

Followed by the lasagna with buffalo mozzarella, eggplant, tomato and basil:

The segundi meat courses were a lamb shoulder from the Maiella Park with wild thyme and almonds, and a beef fillet medallion with aromatic butter, served with fresh sauteed spinach and an aromatic salad.

After dinner came the buffet of fruit and desserts in the secret garden behind the castle:

Served with liquors and Prosecco, naturally. And to finish, the wedding cake of course!

Around two a.m. they had more food for the inebriated dancers: penne in a tomato sauce. By that point we had little room left to eat more...

The next morning (well, noon) there was a brunch outside for all the wedding guests, serving salumi, frittatas, and more cheese and meatballs:

And a wine tasting to sample the wines made from the vineyard on the castle property. Absolutely delicious! I had an incredible visit to Abruzzo, and the food was part of the experience: unpretentious, perfectly done, and unforgettable.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gourmand in Greece

Greek food is hearty, delicious, and has had centuries to evolve to its modern-day niche in Mediterranean cuisine. My recent trip to Athens I made sure to sample all the classic Greek staples, and enjoyed everything I tried.

First I had to have spanikopita, the spinach-filled pastry that may be my favorite Greek dish:

Then souvlaki, grilled meat (I chose chicken) served in a pita with vegetables and sauces, and often fries:

This souvlaki was from Boutique, a nice cafe with gourmet souvlaki that's lighter than the (often greasy) typical street food. Souvlaki is to me the quintessential Greek meal after a long day in the sun.

I also tried dakos, a traditional Cretan salad with tomatoes and feta over bread:

And for breakfast the freddo-cappuccino:

While Italians typically don't serve iced coffee - ask for a cold cappuccino and they'd look at you like you're crazy - with the hot climate in Greece, thankfully Greeks have adopted a whole variety of incredible iced coffees. "Freddo" means cold in Italian, so the Greek "freddo-cappuccino" literally means cold cappuccino, and reflects what I consider to be a brilliant culinary adaptation.

Of course the most beautiful place to eat in Greece is by the sea:

The last night we had an assortment of mezzes (small plates) with ouzo, the classic Greek liquor, to sample lots of different dishes: dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), Greek salad (tomatoes, cucumber, and feta), tzatziki dip, and moussaka, a bubbling eggplant casserole baked traditionally in a clay pot. A fantastic culinary trip!