“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
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.
Life would not be fulfilling without cheese. I fully believe that cheese is the greatest food to have ever been created. And to think that the process essentially involves the fermentation of milk with specific strains of bacteria! There are so many wonderful varieties. From soft and creamy to hard and sharp, there is an endless assortment of cheeses that are each extraordinary in their own right or that go especially well with different complimentary flavors. I could go on for days about my love for this miraculous creation. My love is so deep that when Devon and I were playing the question game the other night and she asked me “if you could have twenty pounds of anything in the world other than money, what would it be?” the first thought that popped in my head was “Cheese!” Now that I live on the east coast, everyone attributes my obsession to being a Midwest native, but I think it is a little over the top even for Minnesota or Wisconsin.
A few weeks ago, I hatched a plan. Every time I cook, I usually try to find a way to incorporate cheese into the meal. One day it dawned on me, why not just make a meal out of cheese? Why should it be a mere accompaniment when it is obviously the star of the show. People often go out to restaurants simply to share a cheese plate and a bottle of wine, so I decided to replicate the experience in the comfort of my own home. I figured it would be cheaper and more enjoyable because I could hand pick each of the options. I was definitely wrong about the expense but the meal was still worth it! Somehow I got all of my roommates on board to split the cost and I excitedly made my way to Fairway Market. The shopping trip took an exceptionally long time and I blame the grocery store. Fairway is set up in a way that it provides flavor descriptions and pairing suggestions for every product. Thus, I spent over an hour pouring over labels that described the differences between gorgonzola and stilton. After making my choices, I headed to the check out counter and then promptly glanced inside my cart and removed half of my overzealous choices. Even then, I walked away with a receipt for purchases north of sixty dollars.
• Gorgonzola (hard, creamy, has a bite)
• Port Salut (soft, creamy, rich)
• Fresh Mozzarella (salty, light)
• Rosemary Cheddar (hard, sharp)
• Quince Paste
• Carr’s Crackers
• Dried Cranberries
• Pepper Jam
My roommates grabbed a few different bottles of wine and we were in business! We have formed a tradition of having family dinners every so often. As with traditions, there are guidelines for each experience. The rules are as follows:
1. We must clean the living room before we eat.
2. We must all take part in the preparation.
3. We must drink wine during the preparation.
4. We must light candles.
5. We must play music of mature taste and the genre must match the mood of the particular night.
On this evening, we chose to listen to Fleetwood Mac Pandora. We spent hours chatting and picking away at communal plates laid across the table. My favorite cheese was most definitely the creamy Port Salut, liberally smeared onto a baguette and I recommend that you try it if you have not already! The night was quite a success and I very much enjoyed my leftovers for the next week.
My roommate Natasha and I recently went on a full-fledged seafood rampage. For almost two weeks, almost every meal we ate included some form of seafood. One night we were especially adventurous and decided to eat baked clams as well as escargot in garlic herb butter. I happened to be wandering through the fish market and found the escargot, I figured why not experiment? I actually really like escargot and recommend that everyone tries it at least once in their lifetime! It is nothing like what you would imagine it tastes like. The escargot is similar to calamari in texture and it actually does not have a very strong flavor. Therefore the addition of butter, garlic and fragrant herbs makes the little creatures taste great. Who doesn’t like flavored butter?
I ended up making friends with the fish monger as well as a private chef who was traveling with a family on a their yacht. The fish monger personally showed me how to split clams and then he gave me some samples for free. While he was packaging my mollusks, the chef told me that it would be easier and less dangerous if I opened the clams by warming them in the oven in a salted water bath. Anyone who has met me is aware how accident prone I am, so I decided to head this man’s advice. (He was right, the clams opened right up in minutes) I ended up getting into conversation with the chef because I was astounded to see that he was carrying around about $300 worth of lobster meat in his grocery cart. I asked why and chatted with him for about ten minutes. I came to the conclusion that he has one of the best jobs that a young person could ever dream of! This man gets to travel all around the world for free, he meets interesting important people weekly, and he forges amazing relationships with the other crewmembers- who are also from all over the world. Most importantly, this man is lucky enough to be able to dream up wild, luxurious meals and he can make them for his clients with no concern for how expensive the ingredients are! Wow, to think of the pleasures I could create if I had unlimited lobster, truffle oil and rare exotic cheeses at my disposal….
Anyway, the clams turned out just as well as the escargot. The escargot actually came pre-mixed with the herb butter so that was one less step to complete. Natasha helped me pry open the clams and then I topped each one with a mixture of bread crumbs, butter, chopped parsley, garlic and shallots. We popped the clams in the oven and broiled them for about ten minutes. Voila! We enjoyed our rich, crispy and salty clams with a side of sautéed kale.
For some reason lately I have been obsessed with seafood. I think it is because there is this amazing store on the first floor of the building of my internship (Chelsea Market) called “The Lobster Place” This store is phenomenal! Not only is it a gigantic fish market that offers every seafood imaginable, but the store also sells prepared foods. For example, you can walk passed rows of brightly colored tuna steaks and twenty pound salmons to go right up to chefs preparing fresh sushi from that day’s catch. In the back of the store there lies a mountain of freshly steamed lobsters of which you can take your pick to have disembodied in front of you and served with a large bowl of drawn butter. Next to that counter is a row of every type of fish chowder you can imagine and a little window from which you can order a range of “rolls” from tarragon shrimp rolls to lemony lobster rolls and more. I love the idea that a market combined itself with a ready to go style restaurant. I know that when I go there I am getting the freshest options available.
Anyway, I blame The lobster Place for my incessant seafood cravings. Last weekend two of my roommates were busy and I was left for a night in the apartment with my other roommate Natasha. We decided to have a wonderful candlelit evening complete with white wine and a seafood stew. I was absolutely shocked at how well the meal turned out. I had never attempted anything of the sort before and was worried the meal would turn out very fishy, but it didn’t. The dish actually did end up different than I had originally envisioned, however it was even better so I didn’t mind. I was aiming to make a sort of steamed mussel dish in garlic, butter and wine, but instead made a brothy and diverse fish stew. I simmered many types of seafood, an entire bottle of wine, chicken stock, garlic and fresh herbs to create a heavenly flavor experience. There was only one issue, I panicked halfway through the cooking process when I tasted the broth and found it to be extremely bitter, almost acidic. I tried to remedy the issue by adding a dollop of crème fraiche, which helped significantly. However, as it turned out, the broth had only tasted of acid because the alcohol from the wine hadn’t fully cooked out yet, so by the time the dish was finished I was left with a light and delicate, multi-layered broth with an added depth from the touch of cream. Natasha loved it so much that she requested I make it for her birthday dinner in the spring. Along with the stew we made a side of roasted vegetables. We ate the leftovers the next night and it was equally as delicious. I was heartbroken when we reached the bottom of the pot.
On this particular day I was really starting to run out of groceries and only happened to have a few potatoes, some garlic, mayonnaise and a lemon at the dorm. It happened to be a Monday, which meant I had four hours of class to sit through. The night before I watched the movie Julie and Julia and for the life of me, all I could think about that Monday was the scene when Julie made Julia Child’s recipe for artichokes with hollandaise! I was craving some artichokes. They’re in season during the springtime so I figured the artichokes would be fairly inexpensive. In the end I suppose I was mistaken for even thinking they would be readily available! Unfortunately, when I get my mind set on something, I really cannot stop thinking about it until I get to eat it, so I ended up walking to four different grocery stores after class until I finally found one with artichokes in stock AND I happened to get the very last one! I proceeded to go home and make artichokes with a garlic lemon aioli dipping sauce and homemade pommes frites on the side. I cannot begin to explain how comforting and satisfying that meal was after the amount of work that went into making it.
This is a simple, healthy and quick side dish that I make when I’m on the go. Carrots are very low in calories but I also think they are pretty filling. On this particular evening I was lower on funds than usual so I worked with what I had available to make dinner. Basically, all I had to use were some carrots! I quickly stir-fried the vegetable and laid it on a bed of rice.
I like to play around with different sauce combinations, usually I take more of a sweet route with some teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds, but this time I was in the mood for something with a little kick! Almost every ingredient I used here has a lot of heat so I added a small amount of Hoisin sauce and some brown sugar to take the edge off as well as to add a glaze. Each bite gave me a satisfying crunch and an accompanying burst of flavor!
I remember the first time I saw what collard greens were. I had always heard they were a food people ate in the south but had no idea what they looked or tasted like. One day, I was watching the Food Network and saw a special on the restaurant with “the best collard greens in town”. The show was Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and I remember thinking the mixture looked pretty unappetizing as the woman ladled a mushy, watery, dark green glob into a bowl for Guy Fieri to sample.
However, the other day I finally decided to try making some southern food for the first time due to a movie. The movie Fried Green Tomatoes has always been one of my favorites! My roommate Devon has never seen it so we decided to rent it during a cozy night in. In addition to being a great movie, Fried Green Tomatoes shows so much delicious food that it is impossible not to want a southern meal afterwards! I decided to make my own fried green tomatoes, along with grits and collard greens for good measure. I had only eaten fried green tomatoes one other time in my life at the Minnesota State Fair and I remember thinking they weren’t that tasty, so I challenged myself to make a better version. I definitely succeeded in my goal.
This meal was quite a process to create, but it was also a pretty fun experience. I put my headphones in and danced to music as I created a breading station of different bowls filled with flour and seasonings, eggs with milk, and cornmeal with breadcrumbs. While I worked on breading my sliced heirloom tomatoes I simmered some sliced collard greens in onions, bacon and chicken broth. The collard greens cooked for a good hour in order to soften and man did it smell good in the kitchen. Once the tomatoes were all ready I set them to frying in a skillet while I constantly whisked together cornmeal with milk and butter on the stove. Grits are usually made with hominy instead of normal cornmeal, however I had to make due because the grocery store did not have the other option. I finished the grits by stirring in melted cheese. I then created a spicy aioli dipping sauce for the fried tomatoes.
One Chopped Onion
Thick Cut Bacon
Sliced Collard Greens
Salt and Pepper
Red Chili Flakes
Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
Fried Green Tomatoes
Chili Powder (mixed into the flour)
Panko Bread Crumbs
Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
Chili Pepper Flakes
Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
I can’t remember the last time I made such a good meal! I usually make creative dishes, but this one was just beyond anything I have made in a long time. Devon and I hardly talked while we ate, the only sounds were the constant noises that people make when they like the taste of something they are eating. While I loved every part of this meal, the collard greens were probably my favorite part since I was so surprised at the end result of the flavor. The Greens were tender and salty while the grits were rich and buttery with strings of cheese in every bite. The tomatoes were much better and more flavorful than the version I had at the State fair. The dipping sauce is what made the side dish because it really emphasized the flavor of the tomatoes. The Aioli was actually so good that I want to make a big jar of it and use the sauce on just about everything.
Nothing is more apparent than the fact that I really need a new camera! Unfortunately, I was the victim of a robbery when I was at the airport over winter break. My Beautiful camera that I absolutely love is now gone forever. At the time I was angry because I had wanted to document memories from reuniting with high school friends but now there are bigger problems; namely the issue of not being able to take quality photos of my creations. Unfortunately, all images since December have been taken on an iPhone. Hopefully I can remedy this problem soon, but until then please believe me when I say that my food not only tastes amazing but it looks much more appetizing than it does in photos.
Enough with the disclaimers, time to get to the meal! Over the last few days I have really been craving tapas. I have only been to tapas restaurants a few times in my life, but I fondly remember the small bubbling skillets of spicy meatballs and potato coquettes. Therefore, I decided to venture into unknown territory for me: Spanish cuisine. I have never experimented with flavors and ingredients from Spain so I was a little bit nervous about my endeavor. I needed not worry however because everything turned out great! I three small dishes: spicy tomato garlic shrimp, cauliflower risotto, and chorizo braised in malbec and garlic. Everything was great but I was especially happy with how the risotto turned out!
See, I have a rather negative track record with making risotto, so I didn’t expect this dish to turn out much better. You must understand that making risotto is a rather complicated process that requires constant attention during the long cooking period. The first and only other time I made risotto I tried a butternut squash rendition….it would have been fine but there were two major problems with the finished product. Firstly, I ran out of chicken broth while cooking the rice so it came out rather sticky. Secondly, I also didn’t have white wine to put in the rice. I figured that red wine would be a suitable substitute but I was very wrong! The risotto ended up turning purple and it looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book with the orange squash pieces mixed in. My mom still makes fun of me for the disaster! She is a great mom though because she ate the meal anyways. Now back to the present. I was unusually calm about my second attempt at risotto. To keep up with the Spanish theme I used manchego cheese instead of parmesan and also threw in some cauliflower for an addition of veggies. The cooking process was uneventful and the product was creamy, comforting al dente Arborio rice with an almost stringy cheesy component. This was definitely the richest part of the meal, I accidently ate too much of this and ended up getting full before finishing the other two plates! Speaking of the other two plates…
I made the shrimp by marinating it raw in lots of chopped garlic. I then sautéed the shrimp with a diced tomato and some tomato paste. I finished off that dish by adding some heat with chili pepper flakes and chili powder. Voila. The chorizo was a little more difficult. When I was searching whole foods I had wanted cured chorizo but the store only had raw chorizo sausage links. It took a while for the sausage to cook long enough for me to cut it into pieces but once I did I simmered the meat with garlic and red wine. I eventually added tomato paste to deepen the flavor as well as to add thickness. I simmered the chorizo until I finished the risotto then served all three dishes together. The three dishes each had a different flavor that complimented the others. The chorizo was slightly sweet with heavier secondary flavors. The shrimp was spicy and tangy. Finally the risotto was creamy and salty. Ta Da! Tapas college style.
After Just two days of attending classes at the New School I can tell there is going to be a BIG problem. Those classes make me too damn hungry. It isn’t even about just being hungry though. It is one thing to be hungry but it is a completely different form of torture to be craving something so much that you start to actually taste the flavors in your mouth…I’m not sure if anyone else knows that feeling. When I want something it is like I internally visualize all the ingredients I would use to create the exact flavor i want at the moment. On monday I had two, two hour classes in a row and after talking about delicious food for that long I could not wait another second to get home and make dinner. I kept thinking about having some sort of chunky, spicy, garlicky sauce on cheese bread. All I could think of was whether I should use turkey meat or sausage and how I wanted to slice the garlic in thick pieces….
Let me tell you one thing I am coming to realize about Manhattan Grocery stores: they are absolute mad houses!! I have never seen anything like it and I can’t believe I have come to the point where I dread wandering the aisles thinking of perspective creations. This is because shopping is actually a stressful event here, filled with over a hundred crazy people rushing around after work so they can hurry home and get on with their lives. I chose Trader Joe’s on this particular trip but Whole Foods has proven to be just as bad! Imagine a small organic grocery store with 100 people literally running around grabbing things (and totally avoiding the stay walking on the right side of the aisle rule) so quickly that the store is essentially running out of merchandise by the minute. Pure chaos! Then it is two employees sole job to walk around carrying 3 foot tall signs that read “end of line here”. The idea is that the employees walk to wherever the end of the checkout line has formed so other customers waiting to pay don’t budge. See, the line is just so long that people have to look for a sign to know where the end is. I can tell you that from the two times I have been to Trader Joe’s the line has wrapped around the entire store all the way until the entrance. Crazy. All that just for Some Pork Sausage and Lean beef. Not to worry though, while I waited for fifteen minutes the song “You’re the One that i Want” from Grease came on and before I knew it i was singing along out loud to entertain myself. I actually didn’t realize I was singing out loud until the end of the line employee started joking with me that “that song must really be my jam”.
I suppose it all turned out to be worth the trouble because dinner was truly delicious! I stewed up a meat sauce that I made from mixing together lean ground beef with the inside of pork sausage and shallots/garlic. I browned the meat then added cinnamon (my secret ingredient that I have finally decided to reveal. Trust me! it’s the charm.) and red wine to the skillet for lots of added flavor. In a separate pan I sauteed large slices of garlic with chopped onion and tomatoes. The tomatoes eventually reduced and I mixed everything together. After adding some chili pepper flakes and pepper I let the whole sauce stew in its flavors. Meanwhile, I grilled some country french bead in garlic and olive oil then melted mozzarella cheese on top of it. Lastly, I reduced an entire bag of spinach in olive oil and seasonings. The sauce came out just how I imagined- chunky and hearty with a great bold garlic and tomato flavor and a kick of spice. I piled the meat and spinach on top of the bread, bit into it and pulled away with huge bite of melted stringy cheese and an explosion of taste from the sauce.
Happy Birthday to me! Unfortunately my birthday falls on December 12th, right before finals time for almost every college. This year I myself had a final the very next morning on the 13th. It is needless to say that it was slightly difficult to ring in my 20th birthday the way it should be celebrated. However, I refused to ignore my special day! The weekend before my birthday I did all sorts of fun activities with my friends. Those stories are best saved for later. On the 12th, between studying, I decided that I wanted to have a delicious dinner of luxury. Devon and I feasted on this meal of Pork Chops doused in red wine with a side of sour cream and garlic mashed potatoes. Poured over the entire meal was a mushroom gravy with a hint of cream and a pinch of rosemary. We even had leftovers, though not surprising for me I ended up eating them later that night anyways. May it be a great year for me filled with changes in a new decade of existence!
Yukon Gold Potatoes
Salt and Pepper
I boiled the potatoes until soft then mashed them up with some butter, milk, garlic and sour cream. I made the gravy after I finished the pork chops. I poured some leftover chicken broth I had in the fridge into the skillet with some flour and mixed it around to get the pork bits and juices mixed around. I then added the Mushrooms and cooked them until they reduced and released their liquids. I seasoned the mushrooms with salt, pepper and rosemary then finished it off with some heavy cream. This meal set the tone for another great year of culinary pursuits!