Thursday, January 28, 2010

Man Up

For those of you who know me solely based on the Internets and not in real life, this may be a shock to your system:

I loathe football.

Yes, it’s true.

And yet, there’s this little event coming up called the Super Bowl, during which America has a national holiday that revolves all around football. Man food is served and all the manly men beat their hairy, pumped-up chests and there’s testosterone-filled hootin’ and hollerin’ all in the spirit of a macho American sport.

Gah.

If only shops were open during the telecast so that I could go purchase unnecessary shoes.

As a side note, I do LOVE America more than anyplace in the entire land. You don’t need to call the Department of Homeland Security on me.

Last year, The Husband and moi moseyed on over to the home of our friends, Vincenzo and Wendy. They had a mac daddy Super Bowl soiree.

I was into it for the opportunity to hang with friends, cook for said friends, watch “The Office” epi that aired AFTER the Super Bowl and to see the Boss do the half-time show.

This year, however, the Super Bowl lacks any allure for me.

I mean, seriously. The Who?

When I think of The Who, I have awful flashbacks of the summer when my Mom and other moms took me and my sister Monica and a bunch of South Jersey kids and foreign exchange students who were staying in South Jersey to see “The Who’s Tommy” on Broadway. The show deals with catatonic states and pinball playing and violence and child molestation.

It was like the longest 2 ½ hours of my life.

I mean the music is fab, but the subject matter was way trippy and dark and disturbing.

That show put me and Monica both in a catatonic state.

I’m sure The Who will rock out during the half-time gig, but I’m not dying to see it.

Now, if the performer was Bon Jovi – that’s a WHOLE other story.

(OMG. Bon Jovi music would make an AWESOME Broadway musical. Johnny and Gina could be the stars. I totally just had an epiphary….. If only I was a Broadway producer.)

So at the start of football season, I read in the Philadelphia Inquirer that Bon Jovi was being considered to do the half-time show for this Super Bowl.

The Husband is convinced this speculation is a figment of my vivid imagination. But, I just Googled it, Dear Husband, and there are many reports reporting what I’m reporting.

I’m NOT crazy!

Maybe in 2011, JBJ will get the stage. Because The Husband is convinced that the Super Bowl suits will only give the half-time gig to old white man rocker bands since the Justin Timberlake-Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. And, you may be judging me right now for LURVIN Bon Jovi. But judginess never got in the way of my feelings about anything. So, whatevs. Bon Jovi is AMAZING in concert. I know my Jersey boys would be fab as a half-time show.

Anywho, in the spirit of football, I bring to you a man food recipe: Retro Rockin’ Potato Skins.




I say “Retro” because potato skins seem like such a throwback to the 90s. Like, potato skins are so 1994 in TGIF’s while you and your friends discuss “MTV Unplugged” or R.E.M or the newest CD you bought at Tower Records after watching "Pulp Fiction" or "Reservoir Dogs" for the millionth time. And “Rockin” is in there because, duh, they ROCK.

The Husband said while eating them last night that the skins are “very, very good and they taste lighter than when you order them at a bar.”

Super yay!

Man food is so bad for you. OMG. But, I suppose on Super Bowl Sunday you’re supposed to wash away these thoughts with American beer, shots, Coca-Cola and more nachos.

I will be stalking shoes on the Internets.

Retro Rockin Potato Skins
(Makes 10)

5 russet potatoes, washed
¼ pound bacon or pancetta, chopped
6-8 scallions, chopped
1 cup shredded cheese such as cheddar
½ cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
Pinch of salt

Black pepper to taste

Prick holes all over your potatoes. Place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high for 12-15 minutes.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Slice in half. Let cool for another 10 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, carefully scoop out as much potato as you can. Place in medium-sized bowl.

Meanwhile, brown your bacon in a medium-skilled over medium-high heat. This takes about 6 to 10 minutes, depending on how crispy you want the bacon. Once cooked, drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Cool for about 5 minutes.

In the bowl with the potato insides, add all the other ingredients, including the bacon once it’s cooled. Mix well. Taste for seasoning.

Carefully scoop filling into each potato skin. Line up potato skins on a baking dish.

Preheat broiler to high.

Place potato skins under broiler for about 5 minutes or until the top is browned to your liking.

Note: You may set up the potato skins ahead of time, and just broil when your party gets started.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Down Home with the Parents


Strawberries, whipped cream and sour cream pound cake.
Only the best for Mom and Dad.

Sometimes, it’s best to keep things basic.
And that’s what I do when Mom and Dad head “to the other side of town” and join The Husband and me for dinner.

The Hubs and I live about five minutes from my parents. We had the good/amazing fortune to be able to actually build a house while we were engaged. Upon taking Mom and Dad to see the land, their initial response was, “But it’s all the way over on the other side of town.”

Five minutes, people. Five minutes.

Fortunately, Mom and Dad came to their senses, realizing that their middle child truly is a hop, skip and a few traffic lights away from home. And, we LOVE having them over for dinner.
We haven’t seen my parents since Christmas, because they headed down to Florida for a month. This scenario has Jerry Seinfeld’s TV parents burned in my brain. My parents had a fab time despite the normally way hot Florida weather taking a turn for the way chilly.

The highlights of their trip including meeting the Cake Boss’s mom while out at dinner.
“She’s exactly like she is on the show,” my observant Mom declared.

Other fun times were had at Elvis impersonator concerts and Anna Nicole Smith’s haunt, the Hard Rock Casino.

For their welcome-home dinner, Roast Beast was served. OK, really it’s a roast beef, but the Whos in Whoville say Roast Beast and they’re only like one of my most fav fictional families ever. So, Roast Beast it is.

With the Roast Beast came Roasted Potatoes with Red Onions, Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and a fab salad.

And, you didn’t think I forgot dessert, did you?

Homemade Pound Cake with Whipped Cream and Strawberries.

My Dad asked if the pound cake was from a store.

Seriously, Dad?!?

To which I replied, “I would never serve you store pound cake.”
Store-bought desserts go against all I believe in. Shudder.

During dinner, my Mom asked, “Do you eat like this everyday?”

She asks this EVERY TIME she comes over for dinner.

My parents totally enjoyed din, which is the only thing that matters.

My sister Monica marvels at us hosting Mom and Pops.

“Cooking for Dad would totally stress me out,” Monica has claimed on the phone from her far-away, parent-free home in Alexandria, Va.

But pleasing my Mom and Dad with food really isn’t that challenging. Rules of thumb are:

1. Do not overcook the protein. Dad will tell you if you do this. My parents are really good at pointing out our missteps. LOL.

2. Do not go all multicultural, trendy or fashionable with your food. Mom and Dad won’t get it.

3. Always have good wine and/or Gentleman Jack, Limoncello and Sambucca on hand. Drinking runs in the family.

4. Add a special touch. Dad loves blue cheese, so I put some on the salad. He also digs horseradish. I put it on the side for the Roast Beast.

5. Make a pot of coffee for dessert. Mom and Dad love their coffee.

6. Expect dinner discussion to revolve around politics (national, state and local).

7. If yelling ensues, just carry on.

These tips work with my amazingly awesome fantastic parents. Maybe they will help you out as well.

Now, on to the dinner at hand. I will share with you my recipes for my Easy Roast Beef and the Roasted Potatoes. The beauty of this is that you can put both in the oven at the same time. Yay! The potatoes take about 45 to 60 minutes to cook.

Regarding the roast beef: Cooking time may vary based on your oven and your meat doneness preference. It is best to check on the roast with a meat thermometer during the cooking process. I cooked mine, which was almost 4 pounds, for just about 2 hours. This produced a perfectly medium-rare roast beef. Yay!
If you’ve never made a roast before, here are my pointers:

1. Let the roast rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before slicing it. Cover it with your roast pan lid or aluminum while it rests.

2. It’s good to have someone else slice the roast (i.e., The Husband), while you get on with the gravy. Then, everything is timed perfectly.

3. Season your roast early in the day. I do it at least four hours ahead.

4. Use a meat thermometer to check on your meat. Remember, a roast continues to cook when you remove it from the oven. I took mine out when the thermometer read 139 degrees.

5. Be prepared to get your paws up in the raw roast beef to season it. If this skeeves you, well, maybe you shouldn’t cook a roast.

I will also share the Sour Cream Pound Cake recipe from the “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.” It’s the red-and-white checkered cookbook. As soon as Mark proposed to me, I went out and bought it in my quest to be transformed into a Stepford Wife.

Kidding.

Stepford Wives just sit there and shut up and look pretty, right? Yeah. That’s so NOT me. Never has been, never will be.

But, the cookbook rocks. I will also give you a how-to on making Homemade Whipped Cream. It’s SO easy, even a caveman can do it. And, I feel like all Domestic Goddesses and Gods out there should know how to make whipped cream. For reals.




Dig in!

Easy Roast Beef
Serves 6

1 rump roast beef, just shy 4 pounds
6 to 8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. oregano
scant ½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, small dice
2 cups water
2 Tbsp. flour

To season roast:
Note: You should season roast at least four hours ahead.

In a small bowl, combine Italian seasoning, oregano, black pepper and salt. Mix together.

With a small paring knife, score your roast on all sides except the fat side by making an “X” measuring a quarter-inch. Space out your “X”s by about a half-inch. Insert garlic slices into each “X.” Be sure to push the garlic inside the roast so that the garlic is not sticking out. If it sticks out, it will scorch in the oven.

With your hands, rub the seasoning all over the roast.

Place the roast in the roasting pan, fat side up. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least four hours.

When ready to roast:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drizzle olive oil over roast.

Place roast, uncovered, in oven. Cook for about 30 minutes per pound. (Cooking time may vary.)

When you have about 40 minutes left, remove roast from oven. Scatter chopped onion throughout the pan. Return roast to oven.

Remove roast from oven. Immediate temperature reading should be between 135 degrees to 140 degrees for medium rare. Cover with lid or aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 minutes.



The roast is about to be sliced.

When ready to serve:

Slice roast and arrange on serving tray.

To make gravy:

Place roasting pan on oven burner over medium heat. Add flour to drippings and onions. Whisk together.

Add water. You may also add a bouillon or a gravy enhancer, such as Gravy Mate. Bring to a simmer. Whisk until gravy thickens a bit. Pour into gravy boat.


This is The Husband's fav potato dish.

Fabulous Roasted Potatoes with Red Onions
(Serves 6)

5-6 medium russet or white potatoes, peeled and quartered into 1 ½-inch pieces
6-8 garlic cloves, skins removed
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 ½ tsp. dried rosemary
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: You may peel and quarter the potatoes ahead of time. Place in a large bowl of cold water to prevent potatoes from discoloring. Dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel before cooking.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place butter and olive oil in a large rectangular baking dish. Place dish in oven for about 8 to 10 minutes so that butter melts.

Remove dish from oven.

Place potatoes, onion, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper in pan. Toss so that mixture is evenly coated in butter, oil and seasonings. Be careful, since the dish is hot!

Bake for about 45 to 60 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Remove every 15 minutes or so, to toss mixture.



The Sour Cream Pound Cake looks basic, but tastes fab.


Sour Cream Pound Cake
From “The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook”

½ cup butter (1 stick)
3 eggs
½ cup dairy sour cream
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla

Allow butter, eggs and sour cream to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour an 8x4x2-inch or 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, beating about 10 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition and scraping bowl frequently. Alternately add flour mixture and sour cream to butter mixture, beating on low to medium speed after each addition just until combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in a 325-degree oven for 60 to 75 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool.

Serve with sliced fruit or berries.

Whipped Cream
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

1 cup heavy whipping cream, super cold
1 Tbsp. sugar

Place a glass bowl and the beaters from a hand mixer in the freezer. Do this at least 2 hours before you make whipped cream.

Remove bowl from freezer. Place cream and sugar in bowl. Beat on high with your hand mixer for about 1 to 2 minutes until soft peaks form. Serve.

It’s not hard, see?!

Be sure to not overbeat your whipped cream, because then it turns into butta. Just, taste it after a minute or so. If it looks like whipped cream and smells like whipped cream and tastes like whipped cream, then it’s whipped cream.

Keeping your bowl and beaters and cream super cold is key to the success of whipped cream!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Note to Self

Must listen to The Husband.

He’s chuckling to himself while reading those words, I’m SURE.

Here’s the thing: The Husband often engages me in riveting conversations about turning the lights off when exiting a room, the thermostat setting, how to properly load a dishwasher or stock options, retirement plans, interest rates, savings accounts, the mortgage, insurance, taxes or other topics that will instantaneously put you in a coma. So, sometimes I zone him out or “yeah, yeah, yeah” him to death.

But when I jumpstarted my lucrative career (ha ha ha) as a blogger, The Husband offered me a tip or two including, “You need to make a list of your story ideas so that you don’t forget anything.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But that Husband, he was so right on.

Because, I made no list whatsoever and as I was downloading some pics yesterday, I came across two dishes that I never shared with all y’all – from December.

OMG. Who am I?

So my listmaking re: The Blog begins today.

I’m actually the world’s biggest fan of lists. I make them all the time.

Lists for party planning.
Lists for grocery shopping.

Lists for my piano studio.

Lists for holidays.

Lists for chores.

And I check off the list as I accomplish each task.
When I was a newspaper editor, my life was totally One Big List of To Do’s and Deadlines and Don’t Forgets. Day in and day out.

My mom razzes me for my uber overplanning process. But that’s just how I roll. If I write something down, it gets done.

I’m not going to apologize. Flying by the seat of my pants doesn’t work. I forget things.

Case in point: The Blog.

So with that, dear readers, I bring you a delightful treat: A Smoked Salmon Platter. This dish made its debut several years ago. I was trying to impress The Inlaws, who are way fabulous and awesome. The appie was such a hit, I make it every year now for my Easter Brunch Extravaganza. Or, I should say, Our Easter Brunch Extravaganza, because The Husband hosts it as well. His tasks include: calming me down, buying ice and making sure the wine, champagne and liquor are well-stocked.

My sister Michele and husband Bob LOVE the Smoked Salmon Platter. So, I rocked it out for their Christmas Eve Night of the Seven Fishes.

In my typical Italian way, I bought way too much smoked salmon (running out of food is like one of our Seven Deadly Sins). So, with my extra packages of smoked salmon, I made a lil somethin’ somethin’ for The Hubs and moi. And it was way less hectic than Christmas Eve, so The Husband was able to take some divine pics for you.

Aren’t the holidays such a whirlwind? Oy. I can’t even think straight, which is another reason why this got lost in the shuffle.

Anyway, the smoked salmon is sliced thin. It’s served with a fabulous cream cheese horseradish spread as well as the typical smoked salmon accoutrement – chopped red onion and capers. It looks very impressive upon serving. I do Martha Stewart proud here fo’ sho’.

And also, dear readers, I hope you’re not under the impression that The Husband has tragic conversation skills. Quite the contrary. He’s very witty and funny and well read and knows his sports, politics, business, domestic policy, foreign policy, fine arts, dining out, traveling and current affairs like nobody’s business. And, he’s not too shabby on celebrity gossip. In fact, when not boring me to death about really important money matters that he’s so awesome at sorting out, he is usually making me laugh or think or laugh some more. LOVE him!


Here is a Smoked Salmon Platter for a party of two.
The recipe below is for a big gathering.

Smoked Salmon Platter
Served as appetizer for a party of 20-25

20 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
½ medium red onion, minced
½ cup capers, rinsed
Carrs crackers or sliced French baguette
Cream cheese horseradish spread (see below)

Place the red onion in a ramekin or small serving bowl. Place the capers in another ramekin or small serving bowl.

On a large platter, arrange smoked salmon slices and crackers or baguette.

Cream Cheese Horseradish Spread
1 8 ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
½ cup sour cream
Juice from 1 lemon
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
2-3 tsp. horseradish
Pinch of salt
Black pepper to taste

With a mixer, cream the cream cheese. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix until well combined. Place in a ramekin and serve with your Smoked Salmon Platter.

Note: You may make the Cream Cheese Horseradish Spread 1 to 2 days in advance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Designer Pizza

Being a food snob means I scoff at takeout pizza. Ditto for fast food, frozen dinners and canned soup.

Yes, I’ve eaten all of the above-mentioned things at some point.

But it never brought me happy thoughts or joyful feelings. It probably just made me feel like a big fat cow.

Truth: I gave up fast food for Lent junior year in college. I’ve never returned since. And that was in the year 199….. er, a really long, long time ago. I was probably listening to Garbage or Dave Matthews or Fiona Apple. So, you do the math. Also during this time, I quit soda and potato chips. OK, I may eat a potato chip like two times a year now. But that’s it. Honest.

If you want happiness for your soul, then make a pizza. I love the anticipation to see how it turns out. You open the hot oven and the scent of sweet garlic and creamy mozzarella and baked bread smacks you in the face. And it looks all golden and fab. And your inner monologue is something like, "OMG. I made THIS. And it's going to be way delish. Yay. Super yay. Super fly yay!"

This week, we had Pizza with Carmelized Red Onions, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil and Prosciutto.

I’m pretty sure that’s not on the menu at Domino’s.

The combo of onions, mozzarella, basil and prosciutto is fantastically awesome. The red pepper flakes give it a major kick. The Husband  loved the spiciness. You can totally omit the red pepper if you'd like.

With the pizza, of course, came a salad: Baby Spinach with Citrus Dressing. So yummy, OMG. Making salad dressing is SO easy. Seriously.

Bottled salad dressing is also on my Shun List. So are mullets, Uggs, leggings and fake neon nails. But, I digress.

The spinach salad is so light and refreshing. Love. In the pic that my personal Paul Child aka Mark shot, you can totally see the delightful flecks of orange zest. So gorg.




Baby Spinach Salad with Citrus Dressing
(Makes 3 to 4 servings)

8 ounces baby spinach, washed and dried
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Citrus Dressing (see below)

Place spinach and red onion in a bowl. Set aside.

Citrus Dressing
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 small orange, zest and juice
½ tsp. dried thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together. Pour over baby spinach and onions when ready to serve.

Pizza With Carmelized Red Onions, Prosciutto and Basil
Pizza dough from bakery or pizza shop
1 large red onion sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Olive oil
Thinly cut prosciutto
Fresh mozzarella, not in water, sliced
20 basil leaves, washed and dried
Salt and pepper to taste

Roll out pizza dough so that it fits into a standard cookie baking sheet. With the tines of a fork, poke holes all over the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside. I usually do this at least 2 hours ahead.

In a medium pan, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil and sauté red onion until fragrant. About 10 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and garlic. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Note: You can do this step ahead.

When you are ready to make the pizza:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove kitchen towel. Place tray with pizza dough in oven and bake for 6 to 10 minutes to lightly brown the bottom of the crust. (You can check to see if the bottom browned by gently lifting with a spatula).

Remove browned crust from oven. Scatter sautéed red onion and garlic mixture all over the crust. Top with fresh mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle olive oil on top of mozzarella. Bake for 12-14 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Remove pizza from oven.



Top with prosciutto slices and basil. After about five minutes, cut and serve.



For more homemade pizza recipes, please click here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Shop Til You Drop

It's the dead of winter, dear readers. And that means one thing and one thing only: Major sales on kitcheny thangs, bells and baubles.

But,  I'm trying to be a good little Susan and Not Shop. So, these past few weeks you can find me in my spare time: exercising my bootie off, reading a good book or two or three..., organizing my house like the crazy husband in "Sleeping With the Enemy," or watching reruns of "The Office" and/or "South Park."

In a previous life, I worked retail. Each summer and holiday break from my college days at Carnegie Mellon University, I would come back to glamourous South Jersey and hawk things at Macy's. In those days, I worked the juniors department. At Christmas they would put me wherever they needed me - usually perfume (Oy!), or men's (where I have to say I was pretty clueless) or hosiery (which was just so god awful, OMG.) They never put me in housewares. I think in my late teens, early 20s the housewares department would have sent me into convulsions.

Upon graduating college, I got my first real job as a gritty, nose-to-the-grind journalist. But the peeps at Macy's encouraged me to stay on. And at the time, I was in the department that had won over my soul - SHOES. And the pathetic, sad reality is: I made more money working 15 hours a week selling shoes to South  Jersey broads then I did working 40-plus hours a week as a newspaper copy editor. If only they told me THESE details in my college journalism classes. So, for a few years I was a shoe sales gal by day, copy editor by night. I was also really skinny and exhausted from never eating or sleeping. Awesome!

And by working retail you learn some things about  how The Consumer works. After the Christmas clearance sales are finito, many shoppers focus on their home. And so, come late January and February, kitchen steals and deals are everywhere.

So, here's what's going on this week at some of my fav shops. I will start with Macy's.


More Wusthof...

Wusthof at ShopStyle


MANUFACTURER'S CLOSEOUT! Wusthof Cutlery, Grand Prix II 8 Piece Set

Orig. $552.00
Now $199.99

That's an awesome price for Wusthof knives. These knives are amazingly fab.


More OXO...

OXO at ShopStyle


The OXO 10-Piece Pop Container Set isn't on sale, but it seems necessary as part of my organization quest. Cost is $99.

Williams-Sonoma is offering free shipping on many, many items, according to an e-mail I received this a.m. Williams-Sonoma and free shipping are a rare combination.

Many items are on sale, too. My picks:



Williams-Sonoma Nonstick Goldtouch™ 4-Piece Bakeware Set is on sale for $84. It's available online only. This is not something I need, but for those who want a starter baking set, this may be for you. The Williams-Sonoma bakeware line is pricey, but awesome!



Cuisinart Elite Die-Cast 16-Cup Food Processor. On sale for $299.95. My cousin Blair, who is a mac daddy cook, LOVES this piece. When he bought it this past fall, he raved about it. The reviews are really great on the Williams-Sonoma Web site as well.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dining Out With a Food Allergy

In a twist of fate that is a bit funny, a bit evil, a bit c’est la vie, I am a lova of dining out and a sufferer of food allergies.

Owe you one there, God.

But, I thought this is a great opportunity to help all y’all out there who may have the same affliction. Maybe you just found out you can’t groove on cashews anymore. Or, perhaps one of your kiddies has the good ole food allergy and you’re freaking. You’re scared. You don’t know how to let him or her out in the world to just eat and enjoy.

So, I will be posting periodically on my tips and procedures for dealing with this sometimes perplexing condition.

Depending on who you speak to, some want you to fear living and eating and traveling and just doing what you do because your body reacts in a really bad way to a certain food. The allergist I visited a year ago tried to put the fear of God into me about going to Phillies games and to Paris and to restaurants and to everywhere.

That didn’t bode well for a girl whose husband has season tickets to Citizens Bank Park. Not to mention the already booked plans to go to Paris in May 2009. And come to think of it, eating out and trying new things rock. If you can’t do them, what’s the point of living?

I so did not visit that guy again.

I’m not saying I’m doing this the right way at all.

But the fear that so many have about living with a food allergy. Yeah. I don’t have that.

Look, I’ve had my share of being thisclose to kicking the bucket because I ate a stupid nut or peanut. But, in my 33 years of being here, I’ve really had only three incidents in which I have swallowed a culprit food and have gone into instant anaphylactic shock. For those of you who don’t know what anaphylaxis is, it’s really bad and really fatal and really fast and really scary. It is wise to prevent it from happening. Ever.

So, here are my Dining Out Tips with a Food Allergy. If you have any you would like to add, please post in the Comments.

1. If you’re not sure, call the restaurant. I do this all the time. Call in the day or during off hours. If the person you speak to is not accommodating, do not go to the restaurant. But usually, the person you do speak to is accommodating. In the past six months, I called the Israeli restaurant Zahav and the tapas restaurant Amada. Why did I call? Well, I know that Middle Eastern and Spanish cuisines usually contain a lot of nuts. Both places were SO helpful and encouraging regarding my food allergy. I told the hostess at each restaurant that I have a life-threatening allergy to nuts and peanuts. Will this pose a problem if I eat at your restaurant? Both hostesses said they accommodate customers with food allergies all the time. Both restaurants made a note of my food allergy prior to the reservations. I’ve also called Thai restaurants, Chinese restaurants and Japanese restaurants. The reality is nuts are used in so many fab cuisines. I still have a major fear of Thai restaurants because when I lived in Pittsburgh, there was a Thai restaurant in Shadyside that always, permanently smelled like peanuts – on the outside. I did try a Thai restaurant on South Street in Philadelphia (I did this for The Husband. What love, I say!), but I used my call-before trick. I also said a dozen Hail Marys.

2. If the menu is available online, check it out. This gives you an idea of what you’re in for. If everything has nuts, maybe you shouldn't go to the place.

3. Tell the server right away that you have a food allergy.

4. Tell the server again after you order your appie and entrée.

5. Tell the server again when you order dessert. This may seem psycho to you, but look, a server is not just serving you. He or she most likely is serving many other tables where there are customers with their own issues. This also will help prevent errors or cross-contamination.

6. Be pleasant, but firm when you tell the server about your food allergy. He or she may go into detail about the menu, steering you clear of the offending items.

7. DO NOT ask for substitutions. So the spinach salad looks fab, but it has walnuts; or the salmon sounds delish but it’s crusted in pistachios. Yeah, forget those. Pick something that is already nut free. The kitchen DOES NOT want to swap this for that. Also, substitutions lead to the likelihood of error. And in a severe food allergy situation, we really don’t want that.

8. Have a backup. This is how I order: “I’ll have the mahi mahi, but if there are nuts in the dish please tell me and I will change my order.” Usually, the server says, “I will check with the kitchen right now and let you know.” If there’s a prob, I have a backup choice. Problem solved.

9. If the server/kitchen is unsure, change your order. This happens a lot with desserts because some restaurants don’t make dessert on the premise. Better safe than sorry is a cliché because it’s true. Besides, do you really need the chocolate mousse? Or, as my husband says, “Babydoll, you can make the chocolate mousse better than they make it here.” Good husband.

10. Look at your food before you eat. Yes, I am a total control freak. But, I have been served nuts by mistake. So, I always take a good look. If something looks mysterious, I have The Husband taste it. Hee.

11. If there are nuts on your plate, kindly send it back and order something else.

12. “My girlfriend’s a vegetarian, so that pretty much makes me a vegetarian.” Samuel L. Jackson’s words in "Pulp Fiction" ring true for vegetarians – and food allergy sufferers linked in coupledom. I have a food allergy, so The Husband does not order anything with nuts or peanuts or his beloved peanut butter or anything else that may cause me to keel over.

13. You scan the menu and it looks like EVERYTHING has nuts. Oh no, now what? This has happened to me, people. When Mark and I got hitched, my sister and her then-fiance-now-husband bought us a gift card to La Bec Fin. At the time, this was THE restaurant to go to in Philadelphia. It also cost like $700 to eat there. I was allergic to every single god damn dessert they served. OK. I’m over it. The dinner was SUPER amazing. I mean for $700, it better be, right? Right. So, I just didn’t eat any dessert. But, this is the case at frou frou schi schi restaurants at times regarding entrees. Keep looking, there usually is at least one non-nut entrée or salad or appie. You may need to amend my No Substitution rule and remind yourself to not return to this nutty restaurant.

14. Have fun. My No. 13 item is a rarity it seems, and if that does happen, don’t let it bring you down. And don’t let it deter you from trying new, different and unique restaurants and cuisines. We learn so much about other cultures from dining out. I hope my 14 tips help you!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Voila!

It’s like we’re in a restaurant, Dahrling.

That’s how it feels at my comfy kitchen table when Veal Piccata is on the menu.




I always have boatloads of lemons on hand as well as garlic, shallots, capers, white wine and fresh parsley, so the time was right for Veal Piccata and me and The Husband.

Alongside, I made a fab Lemon Spaghettini.



It is so one of my fav pasta dishes. The Husband digs it, too. It’s so lemony and spicy and fresh all at the same time.

I also served an arugula salad, because we always have a veg going on with dinner. House rules. I just dress my arugula with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and peppa and call it a day.

Veal Piccata
1 lb. thinly sliced veal
¼ cup flour
Salt and pepper
Juice of one lemon
2 Tbsp. capers
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup white wine
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter for sautéing veal; 1 Tbsp. butter for sauce

In a wide shallow dish, place flour.

Season both sides of the veal pieces with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the veal in the flour.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 Tbsp. butter with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Quickly cook as much veal that will fit comfortably in your pan on both sides. This should take four to five minutes total. Remove veal from pan to a reserved plate. Repeat with the remaining butter, olive oil and veal. Remove veal from pan to the reserved plate.

Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. butter. Add garlic and shallots and sauté until fragrant, scraping up the brown bits on the pan with a flat wooden spoon, about two or three minutes.

Once the garlic and shallots are soft and glistening, add the wine. Bring to a bubble and cook until reduced by about half.

Add the broth, lemon juice, capers. Taste. Season with salt and pepper, if you desire. Let mixture simmer for a few minutes. Sauce should slightly reduce and slightly thicken. After simmering for about five minutes, return veal to the mixture. Coat veal in sauce and cook for two to three more minutes.

Top with chopped parsley.

Serve immediately.

Lemon Spaghettini
(Makes three to four side-dish servings)

½ lb. spaghettini
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 fat garlic cloves, sliced
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
½ cup fresh basil
2 to 3 ladles of pasta water
Salt and black pepper to taste
Fresh grated parmesan, to serve

In a pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghettini according to pasta box instructions.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil. Saute garlic and red pepper flakes for about three minutes.

Add two ladles of pasta water, lemon juice, zest, a pinch of salt and black pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, reserve another ladle or two of pasta water in a separate bowl or measuring cup.

Add cream to lemon sauce. Heat through.

Using a spider ladle, remove pasta from the pot and place directly in sauce. Toss until coated. Add parsley. Using kitchen shears, snip basil straight into the pasta pan. You may chop basil if you prefer and then add. Toss again. Cook for another minute or two in the sauce. If you want your sauce saucier, add some of the reserved pasta water.

Serve immediately with fresh parmesan cheese.

Major Sale at Sur la Table

Sur la Table is having a rocking sale right now.

You get 20-percent to 40-percent off cookware, serveware, bakeware, cookie cutters, placemats and napkins, cook’s tools and gadgets, aprons, towels and mitts, and rustic stands and bakers.

I need more cookware like I need new shoes or J. Crew T-shirts or a hole in the head.

So, I thought sharing the info with all my fab readers would help me live vicariously through your purchases.

However, if I were buying something for mia cucina at this moment it would most likely be:





I have a sneaky suspicion this will be mine by year's end. The color is just beyond fab. When the Sur la Table catalogue arrived like three days after Christmas, I was enthralled. And now, I'm stalking a pan on the Internets. OMG.




These are not on sale, but they are so necessary for my baking. Love. Leopard-Print Bake Cups





I'm not going to lie. It's very likely that I will buy  these Red Locking Tongs. They're 12 bucks and I really could use a new pair.




I always eye up espresso makers in the store, but NEVER buy. I so covet one. But then, of course I would need cute espresso cups to go with the espresso. I would totally get the old-school Bialetti.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fancy Pants Po-tah-toes




Sometimes you want a side dish with that Wow factor.

You know, like when you rock a killer pair of hot pink or red heels or a sparkly statement necklace or a huge “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got” ring.

OK. Maybe, I just have those accessory moments.

But when you want your dinner guests to leave your table with a fond memory of the main course AND the accoutrement, serve them some Potato Gratin.

So, let’s get the tough questions out of the way:

Is this dish high-maintenance?

Yes.

Does it take a big chunk of time?

Totally.

Does it require the meticulous task of slicing potatoes ever so-fine and grating a whole heck of a lot of Gruyere cheese?

In the words of Sarah Palin, you betcha.

But it really is super fantastically scrumptious.

And, if I can make one selling point to the hassled, frazzled and frayed: You can make it ahead of time.

Yay!

I do highly recommend that you slice your taters with a food processor and its slicing mechanism. Or you can use a mandolin slicer. (I have to admit, mandolins give me the shivers. Perhaps it’s my pianist fear of losing my fingers. Ack.)

Or, you can use the good-old sharp knife method. I don’t think my knife skills are up to par. And, you really want your potatoes sliced evenly so that they cook evenly. Makes sense, right?

Feel free to switch up your cheeses and your herbs. This is just how I groove on Potato Gratin.

Potato Gratin
Makes six to eight servings

1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. butter (for buttering pan)
2 ½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch thick slices
Salt and black pepper
1 ½ cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus 3 to 4 Tbsp. for broiling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

Butter a rectangular or oval 3-quart baking dish.

In a saucepan, combine cream, thyme, chopped garlic and nutmeg. Cover the pan. Heat over medium-low heat.

In the prepared baking dish, layer potato slices so that each overlaps a bit. Season layer with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Remove pan with cream from heat. Ladle a third of the mixture over the potatoes. Top with ½ a cup of Gruyere cheese and a third of the ½ cup of Parmesan cheese. Repeat this process two more times. You should have three layers.

Place pan in oven and bake for about 45 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Sprinkle with 3 to 4 Tbsp. of Parmesan cheese and broil until top browns, about five minutes.

Note: You may make dish ahead and reheat at 300 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Crouton 101


Homemade Croutons are served.

Stale bread is often destined for the trashcan.


The reality is fresh bread is a star – for a day. After 24 hours, it has often lost its luster.

But you can alter the course for your day-old loaf with a few basic tools and ingredients. With a knife, a pan, salt and pepper, and a bit of olive oil, you can transform that boring bread into a masterpiece: Homemade Croutons.

Your family and friends will thank you.

So will your soup and/or salad.

Any type of bread will do, although those with a crusty crust work best, IMHO.



Cutting up your bread is the first step to making delish Homemade Croutons.

Sometimes, I throw in a crushed clove of garlic for a kick.

So, here’s the formula for Homemade Croutons. You can store them up to five days in a Ziploc bag.

Homemade Croutons
(Makes four to six servings)

2 cups stale bread, cubed into ½-inch to ¾ inch pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove crushed garlic (optional)

Over medium high heat, preheat a large, wide pan.

Add olive oil.

Add bread. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic, if using.


The bread cubes do their thang in the pan. Have patience!

After a few minutes, gently toss the croutons with a spoon or tongs. Repeat a few times until croutons are toasty, golden brown and fragrant.

Serve with your favorite soup or salad.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Puff Momma

So you make something really fantabulous and that means one thing and one thing only....

You will lead a life of making the signature fantabulous dish time and time again.

With that preface, I bring you La Cream Puff:


Or, I should say a whole tray of cream puffs – (and a really cute J. Crew sweater that I snagged earlier in the fall. Yay me!)

This tray of puffs was brought to my peeps on Thanksgiving.

I know, right. Way to move right fast on your bloggin, Suzie Q.

(Hangs head in shame.)

For reals, the cream puffs slipped my mind until New Year’s Eve when, you guessed it, I made them again.

So, I’ve been in the cream puff game since my college years. I don’t know how this came about. I was flipping through my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook and started making them one day.

The rest is history, because my family, which is chock full of cooks and eaters and critics (my people tell you what they think, feelings be damned), fell head over heels in love with my cream puffs.

I’ve stuck with the Betty Crocker recipe time and time again. Sure, I see different recipes all over the joint – fancy cookbooks, gourmet mags, Web sites, TV, etc. – but why mess with perfection?

If you eat one of these cream puffs, you will agree that they are amazingly delish. Unless you’re my sister Monica, who has an aversion to all things creamy and puffy.

When I serve these cream puffs, I am often compared to the little old Italian ladies who live all throughout my town and bake old-school confections. Their recipes live in their hearts and minds. Awwww. See, my family is full of super sweet people.

Many eaters of my cream puffs declare that they are terrible at making cream puffs. It’s a major fail over and over.
“Well, try again,” I say, always pointing to Betty Crocker.

To make the perfect puff, here are my simple tips:

1. You need to have all your ingredients ready to go. Don’t fiddle around the cupboard or search high and low for your cornstarch. Just, get the ingredients, equipment, measuring utensils set aside and move onward and out with the recipe at hand.

2. Don’t talk on the phone or text or any of that nonsense. The cream puff needs your attention. (Actually, I advise against these stupid interruptions whenever you are cooking. Be one with your food!)

3. Use timers. The recipe says to boil for a minute, so boil for a minute. Don’t guess on that stuff.

4. A wooden spoon is your best friend. I mix both components – the puff and the cream – with an old-school spoon. My Kitchenaid is not welcome here. It takes some muscle,  but a workout won't kill you.

5. Patience, my friend, is key to the survival of the cream puff. You have to stir over medium heat and this takes time. Just deal with it.

6. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, cut, fill or dust the cream puffs with powdered sugar until you are ready to eat them. This is key to their freshness and beauty and awesomeness. Yes, it is a bit high-maintenance, but so worth it!!

So, that’s it. Here’s the recipe.

Again, major props to Betty Crocker!



Cream Puffs
From "Betty Crocker's Cookbook, Ninth Edition"

Pastry:
1 cup water
½ cup butter
1 cup flour
4 extra large eggs

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat water and butter to a rolling boil in a 2 ½ quart saucepan. Stir in flour. Reduce heat to low. Stir vigorously over low heat for about a minute or until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat.

Beat in eggs all at once with a wooden spoon until mixture is smooth. This takes a few minutes. Drop dough about three inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. You should have twelve puffs.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool for about 30 minutes.

When ready to serve, cut off top third of puff and pull out soft dough. Fill puffs with Cream Filling (see below). And dust with powdered sugar.
Cream Filling:
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in 2-quart saucepan. Slowly stir in milk. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Boil for a minute. Stir half of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, then stir back into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into a glass bowl. Press plastic wrap on filling to prevent a tough layer from forming on top. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before using.

Makes 12 puffs.

Product Review: Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender



Description: The Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender (CSB-77) is great for pureeing foods, especially soups, baby food, smoothies, gravies, sauces and dips. My model also came with a whisk and chopper gadget.

Why I love it: I bought this primarily for the pureeing aspect. I use it when making soups that need to be smooth. Using the Smart Stick is simple, and much cleaner than using a ladle to transfer hot soup to a standard blender or food processor. You can just puree straight away in your soup pot, and return your pot back to the stovetop and best of all, it barely causes spatters.

Other pluses: Easy to store (blender can be separated into two parts); easy to clean; if you don't have a food processor, the whisk and chopper attachment could help you with small food processor duties such as chopping garlic, onions and herbs.

Cost: About $50.

Where to buy: Crate and Barrel , Chef's Catalogue