“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” Quoted from John Lennon
After months of anticipation I have finally made it to Florence, Italy!! This first week has been a whirlwind of non-stop activity and orientation to the winding roads, unfamiliar people and exciting marketplaces. One of my very first stops was the mercato centrale, a large indoor market that houses vendors selling everything from fresh fish and produce to dried herbs and fruit. I was shocked to see a number of foreign animal organs on display as well; I may not be quite adventurous enough to endeavor cooking up innards at this point in my life…who knows though, one of my professors swears that a properly cooked intestine was once the best meal he had ever tried.
Anyway, moving past the meat purveyors, I opted instead for some fresh pasta and produce in favor of making a light sauce for the surprisingly warm January afternoon. How could I not eat pasta as my first meal in Italy!? It may be cliché but it sure was delicious. There is nothing comparable to the flavor of a dish created with ripe ingredients freshly plucked from the earth. My teachers explained in class how Italians value simplicity in cooking. Each ingredient in a meal should stand out and with its own unique flavor. Now that I have prepared my first meal I can fully appreciate what my professors meant. I ended up making a simple yet delicious Tagliatelle pasta with a light parsley, white wine and garlic sauce.
One of my absolute favorite restaurants is a small place off of south beach in Miami called Macaluso’s. My family and I discovered it during a trip to Florida because the restaurant has same name as my step-family. One evening we made our way towards south beach, not knowing what to expect. We envisioned a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint but instead encountered an intimate fine dining restaurant. The owner of the proudly describes his restaurant as the only one in south Florida that serves home cooked Italian recipes from Staten Island. The food is fantastic! The recipes are for traditional homestyle meals, but they are presented elegantly by attentive and well informed wait staff. The menu is unique in that it does not exist- the wait staff recites the entire menu right at the table in addition to explaining each variety of pasta with visuals in the form of a gift basket. Sometimes it is difficult to remember the first few items on the list by the time the server finishes their presentation, but it really doesn’t matter because you can’t go wrong with any of the dishes. Every time I go to Macaluso’s I fret over which meal to order, but always end up content since they all come family style and are thus easy to share. My favorite has got to be the house salad with a marinara meatball on top. It sounds strange but the combination is phenomenal; I never would have thought of it but now I almost always order salad with a side of meatballs when I go to an Italian restaurant. Still- it can’t ever compare to Macaluso’s.
Even though I could never hope to replicate the recipes served there, I have to give it my best effort every once in a while since I cannot hop on an airplane every time a craving hits. Therefore, I recently created my own versions of Macaluso’s linguini with clam sauce and escarole with cannellini beans. I must say, it turned out pretty well.
Linguini With White Wine Clam Sauce
Red Chili Pepper Flakes
Salt and Pepper
Escarole With White Beans
Salt and Pepper
Both of these dishes are extremely easy to make. The escarole with white beans produces a thick and salty sauce when it is simmered and the linguini is delicate from the combined light and aromatic flavors of parsley, white wine and shallots. This is simplicity at its finest, all soaked up down to the last drop by a hunk of doughy baguette. Don’t waste a bit.
August and September are prime harvesting months and I couldn’t be happier. One of my favorite pastimes is wandering through the union square farmer’s market to people watch and shop for fresh seasonal delights. I like to go with no pre-determined ideas in mind for what dishes to create. Instead I just wander and pick out the best, most fresh and unique produce that I can find. I then take my goods home and lay it all out. It’s always really fun because I feel like I am creating my own little version of an iron chef competition in which I have to make delicious meals out of random ingredients. One such meal that I recently made was fresh pappardelle pasta with a homemade pesto sauce. Pappardelle is my absolute favorite type of noodle, especially when it is freshly made like the day I bought it at the market. This meal perfectly embodied the mood of the day. The dish was light and fresh with all of the delicate flavors of summer. That day at the market had been sunny with a breeze and as I made my way home to cook my dinner, I knew that there weren’t many days like that left in the year.
• Pappardelle Pasta
• Olive Oil
• Lemon Juice
• Lemon Zest
• Minced Garlic
• Sea Salt
• Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
• Red Chili Flakes
• Parmesan Cheese
One day this summer I was fantasizing about different meals I wanted to create and I happened to mention the idea of buffalo chicken stuffed shells to Devon. Now that we have reached September that means it was also her birthday! Out of nowhere she pulled out the idea from this summer and requested that I make the stuffed shells for her birthday meal.
I started my preparations early yesterday by hopping on the subway to 125th street. I recently discovered Fairway market, and let me tell you this is the most magical grocery store I have ever seen! I feel extremely dorky about how excited I get when I try to describe this place to other people but it’s like a wonderland to me! I could spend hours in that store, they have absolutely every food anyone could ever dream of from every country. Anyway, I journeyed to fairway and bought all the necessary ingredients to make dinner and was then off to class for the evening. Before I left for school I boiled the chicken and shredded it, then left it to marinade in a homemade buffalo sauce. I had never made shredded chicken before but it was very easy. Once boiled and cooled, I simply pulled it apart into small pieces. with two forks. When I came back home I threw the rest of the meal together in a few simple steps with the help of my sioux chef roommates. I boiled the pasta while some bacon crisped in the oven. Meanwhile, I made the cream sauce by sautéing shallots and garlic in butter and adding cream, parmesan, bleu, cheddar and cream cheese. Once the pasta was al dente, I shoved spoonfuls of the chicken mixture inside and laid the shells side by side in a baking dish. I poured the sauce over the shells, topped the platter with crumbled bacon and threw the dish in the oven for about fifteen minutes.
Jumbo pasta shells
Frank’s Hot Sauce
Chili Pepper Flakes
Salt and Pepper
Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Salt and Pepper
As of right now, this may be one of my favorite dishes that I have created to date! It is definitely an indulgence that one shouldn’t eat very often, but it was absolutely delicious. The cheesy pasta sauce cooled down the spicy chicken and the bacon was the perfect addition as a topping. Do not skip the bacon. This should be a rule in life.
Who doesn’t like spinach artichoke dip? I for one am absolutely obsessed with the side dish. In the last year I have found many ways to make it part of my life, from making it during spring break in Miami, to eating it on a regular basis at one of my favorite stops “Artichoke Pizza”, this concoction has proved to be magical to my taste buds. For anyone wondering, Artichoke pizza is an ingenious concept of a fast food joint that has figured out a foolproof recipe for making a pizza topping out of spinach artichoke dip. It sounds simple but I doubt that anyone could ever quite copy it to the same standards. One day I was thinking about how great the combination of spinach, artichokes, and cheese is, when I came to the conclusion that it’s madness that no one has yet turned the idea into a pasta creation. Thus, the spinach artichoke pasta dish was born, and my, was it tasty. I will have to make it again soon. The flavors of the spinach and artichokes were more pronounced than in the characteristically muddled mixture of dip. Take that in conjunction with the smooth creamy cheese sauce and the interestingly shaped pasta, Devon and I had a great break time meal from the stresses of school and moving apartments. Bon Appetite!
This is my go-to stressed out meal of choice. I know it is sort of odd, but macaroni salad has been a comfort food for me since I was a little girl. I remember when I was hitting pre-teen age I got my first cook book, of course it was called something like “The Teen Cook Book”. Even though it was cheesy it had the best recipes! I’m sure I still have it lying around the house somewhere. Anyway, the tuna macaroni salad really stayed with me throughout my whole life as something delicious and comforting during hard times. I remember making it when I was still pretty little and my step grandpa Opa tried it. He thought it was great! Surprisingly, this meal and Opa’s reaction was one of the first confidence boosters that I ever got in the kitchen. This last final exam period was exceptionally hard on me, and luckily the ingredients required for this recipe are very inexpensive so that’s an added plus.
I actually wrote a short blog about this dish during the fall semester final exam period, however that story was about a disaster experience! Luckily this particular concoction turned out fine without any pepper-mill mishaps.
Corn (not normal for my recipe but I had it on hand and figured why not)
I call this gourmet ramen, a poor college student’s way of getting by with little money to buy food. I made this meal during finals time when I was short on time, money, and groceries. I jazzed up a simple package of ramen by adding some vegetables and my own seasonings to the broth. This was fast and easy. I simply steamed the vegetables before simmering everything together in the broth to blend the flavors.
How can anyone go to a tropical location and not eat seafood? That has always been my thinking in regards to traveling to a coastal region. Living in Minnesota means that seafood is very pricey and not usually very fresh. On the other hand, while New York is closer to water, almost everything in this city is extremely expensive. In contrast, seafood of every variety is abundant in Florida and at a much more reasonable cost, especially with the possession of a Winn Dixie card! From the moment I touched down in Miami, my mind began racing with thoughts of crab legs and lobster tails. My original goal was to find a restaurant that offered an all you can eat prix fixe crab leg meal. A few years ago I went to a place called Rock Bottem with my Mom and Grandma and ended up eating four and a half pounds of crab by myself! The restaurant has since shut down…I wonder if it had anything to do with me?
Anyway, in the end I actually made my own seafood back at my family’s condo. The plan was for lobster tail but Steph said she was really craving pasta that night. I figured why not combine the two? The result was seafood fettuccini with a cream sauce. It was so good! Devon was my sous chef for the night. I entrusted her with chopping various ingredients. Her favorite task seems to be handling the garlic. I showed her my trick of smashing the garlic with a bottle to get the skin off and she just loved it. Now every time she smashes garlic she insists on shouting “BAM!”
I bought three lobster tails and baked them slathered in butter and a sprinkling of garlic powder. Meanwhile I sautéed shrimp in even more butter and garlic. The pasta boiled while I made a cream sauce of multiple types of cheese along with cream and some lemon. Originally I had wanted to use mascarpone, however the grocery store did not seem to carry it so I substituted in some cream cheese. After chopping the steaming lobster and adding some peas, we had a sophisticated yet homey meal. All that was needed as a finishing touch was some grated parmesan.
Three Lobster Tails
Peeled And Deveined Shrimp
Cracked Black Pepper
NOTE: Below is a surprise feature film that documents the creation of this masterpiece meal. Yes, not only do I cook, but I have fun doing it….
This is a very healthy as well as satisfying vegan pasta dinner! The meal was filling and refreshing at the same time. I made a simple yet tasty spinach and tomato pasta sauce. I squeezed some lemon on top at the end along with a small drizzle of balsamic vinegar for sweetness. The key to this meal is to let the sauce simmer and stew so that all of the flavors from each ingredient can infuse the olive oil. I used all my patience in waiting as long as possible for the garlic to cook in the hot oil. If only my muscles looked like Popeye’s after eating this meal packed with nutrients from all of the spinach!
The butternut squash ravioli I had earlier put me in the mood to have more! This time I tried making the ravioli from scratch. That’s right, from scratch! I went to a specialty ravioli shop right off of Arthur Avenue in Little Italy where I bought large sheets of pasta for my creation. In addition, I stopped at Casa Della Mozzarella on my way home and picked up some fresh mozzarella. From all the many places in Little Italy, Casa Della Mozzarella definitely has the best cheese! I did not have anything to use for the cutouts so I ended up just using a glass cup to cut out the circular shapes. Making ravioli turned out to be very easy! I made a filling of both ricotta and mozzarella cheese mixed in with chopped spinach. Usually ravioli is filled with ricotta cheese. I don’t see why no one ever gets more creative with fillings! In order to piece together the parts I used eggs as a sort of glue and squeezed the sides together with a fork. It reminded me of the “scrach and slip” days in elementary school art classes. In the end I had a lot of extra filling.
I created a purpose for it by making spinach dip, simply adding a few more ingredients that I had lying around and baked it right up! Why let any extras go to waste? It’s fun to get creative. The ravioli only took minutes to cook since the pasta was so fresh and I made a tomato cream sauce to go along with it.
Salt and pepper
Chopped mozzarella cheese
Tomato cream sauce
Salt and pepper
Chopped mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper
I’m confident that the meal turned out well. I sent some of the leftovers home with a friend who had never tried my cooking before and later received a marriage proposal in response! I have succeeded in proving the way to a man’s heart…