31 August 2008

A Disappointing Meal at Cipolla Rossa

Being owned by a genuine Tuscan gentleman with such accolades as catering for the Italian Ambassador to the UN more than 200 times, Cipolla Rossa should have been great - but instead it was another mediocre Italian only distinguished by a more interesting menu than most.

Situated on 1st Avenue between 92nd and 91st, the restaurant has transformed its tiny dining room with a bright and pretty copper ceiling. It has the added bonus of being a BYOB joint - at least for now. I had high expectations for the place because its menu was so specifically Tuscan, with a special emphasis on everything to do with wild boar (boar meatloaf, boar prosciutto, parpadelle with wild boar ragu, wild boar sausage...). It should have been a great night out.

Marcus and I ordered the grilled calamari, and two of their daily specials: double cut wild boar chop, and spaghetti with pancetta, wild boar sausage, and red onion (the restaurant's namesake - "cipolla rossa" is a red onion that grows especially around Tuscany). We felt this gave us a good spectrum of their different dishes. We brought along half a bottle of 2006 Santa Cristina sangiovese we hadn't finished last night with our pasta pomodoro.

The main problem with our meal was that everything was overcooked. The calamari was too charred from the grill and too tough, and the pasta was mushy! I can't forgive an Italian place for overcooked pasta. It's a cardinal sin and the ultimate sign of sloppiness in the kitchen. Marcus's boar chop was nice and rare as he ordered it, but the actually cut was not top quality - a little sinewy. Perplexingly, every dish we ordered was doused in a garnish of dried parsley, which I found detracted from both the flavor and the texture of each dish. Positively, the flavors in the were generally well done - the sauce on the pasta was excellent, and I ended up eating it around the spaghetti.

Cipolla Rossa has unfulfilled potential. The one waiter/host taking care of the small dining room kept on forgetting napkins, but was friendly. I think he and the restaurant are having a shaky start, but if they try a little harder and live up to higher standards in the kitchen, they could do quite well. However, I'm not willing to waste my money in the meantime when I can cook their menu better at home. I recommend Bianca or Falai instead for an authentically Italian meal in NYC.

My No-Fail Meal: Pasta Pomodoro and Green Salad

Every cook has a no-fail meal: comfort food we're really confident cooking anytime. I first started cooking at age 7, while living in Rome. Hence, pasta will always be my comfort zone. My menu is a green leaf and garlic salad with homemade pasta pomodoro. Buon Appettito!


- 1 head of romaine or red leaf lettuce (washed, dried, torn into bite-size pieces)
- 1 garlic clove
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 Tb EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
- 1/2 C. balsamic vinegar

My mom taught me how to make the ultimate salad, and its greatness rests on the specific way you dress it. She claims to have been instructed by an Italian housewife, who set down in no uncertain terms these mandatory steps:

1. Use a wooden bowl. It is unrivaled for capturing and transferring flavors, particularly garlic. Take a large clove of garlic, and crush it under the handle of your knife. This makes the skin very easy to pull off, and eliminates the need to mince the garlic. Mash the garlic into the bottom of the bowl, swirling its guts all across the wood to allow the bowl to soak up its flavor.

2. Put all your lettuce into the bowl. The two varieties I specified are my favorite, although you can certainly use arugula, baby greens, or any mixture of your favorites.

3. Drizzle the great-quality EVOO over the top, and toss the salad so that every leaf is coated. You may need to add more, based on the size of your salad. Just keep in mind you want it very lightly coated, not drenched.

4. Next add a good few pinches of sea salt, and toss the salad again.

5. Now you drench the salad in balsamic vinegar, and once again toss the entire salad, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate the pieces of garlic. Finish with some freshly ground black pepper.

I guarantee this is the biggest punch of flavor you will ever taste, especially from a salad! When I have a stuffy nose, I like to add a teaspoon or two of dijon mustard at the end. It clears the sinuses like nothing else.


- 1 lb. spaghetti (Barilla's great)
- 42 oz. whole peeled plum tomatoes in a can (look for the Italian "San Marzano" variety)
- 1 small yellow onion, diced very finely
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 4 tiny dried pepperroncino, crushed (or a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes)
- 2 Tb EVOO
- salt & pepper to taste
- a large handful of fresh basil, chopped coarsely
- parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated on top of pasta just before eating.

Put on a very big pot of water to boil. In the meantime, in a 14-inch frying pan, make your soffritto by heating the EVOO and sautéing the onion, garlic, and pepperoncino, seasoned with salt & pepper, over medium-low heat until onion is translucent, and the entire mixture starts to gain a golden color. Only after this point do you add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium, and crush the tomatoes with a potato masher in the pan.

At this point, taste the tomato sauce for seasoning. It usually needs another teaspoon or two of salt and some more pepper. Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Only stir periodically.

By this time, the pasta water should be boiling. Salt liberally - it should taste like sea water! Add the spaghetti and boil for 3-4 minutes. Why so little? Because the trick is to finish off the pasta in the sauce! After 4 minutes MAXIMUM, use tongs to transfer the still-very hard pasta to the bubbling tomato sauce. Ladle out about 1/2 c. of the pasta water and add it to the tomato sauce. Keep stirring the pasta around the sauce, letting it finish cooking. As soon as the pasta is al dente (meaning it has a good bite in the texture - not mushy at all), turn off the heat and stir in the basil. When you transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes, you will be amazed how the quite liquid sauce congeals into the perfect consistency.

Top each bowl with a bit of basil, parmesan, and black pepper


30 August 2008

Pleasure Reading

Have you ever read a cookbook from front to back? I do, especially when I am either a) hungry with an empty pantry or b) burned out of ideas in the kitchen.

My all time favorite is Mary Contini's Dear Francesca. She was one of the founding members of one of the best Italian specialty food stores in the world, Valvona & Crolla's, and her cookbook-cum-novel explains the principals of Italian cooking with all the love of a Mamma. Having lived in Italy for 6 years (I was born there!), I had always known how good food was supposed to taste. Thanks to Contini, now I actually know how to make it. The biggest game-changer for me was learning to make a soffritto as the base of all my dishes. To build a big and memorable flavor, now I know to slowly sauté (sweat, really) finely diced onion and minced garlic with salt & pepper in EVOO as the base to everything from my no-fail tomato sauce, to chicken noodle soup.

Her book was actually written with the intention of being read cover-to-cover, but I encourage you to read every cookbook this way. I find I am able to pick up subtleties in technique best as I compare recipes, and it's a great way to brainstorm new flavor combinations. The best ones explain their cooking as a single narrative. Try Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Nicholas Clee! These hyperlinks take you to my favorite books of theirs.

25 August 2008


"August is the best month for eating in Delaware"

My sister and I enjoyed a weekend with the best this cozy state has to offer: politics and peaches.

The state was buzzing the morning after we arrived with the news that Obama announced Joe Biden as his running mate as we made our rounds to the local farmers markets. At the upscale, established Fifer Orchards in Camden we bought everything from wasabi and sesame infused oil, to peach ice cream made from the fresh produce of their orchards. Even though it was a chic foodie establishment, I was relieved that prices had not caught up with those in New York.

Down the road we stopped in an Amish food emporium. Their barbecue smelled tempting, but remembering our imminent dinner plans, we satisfied our cravings with dill-laced havarti and an herb-infused baguette instead.

Staying with our old family friends, Chuck and Jeanine, we talked Delaware state politics (with which Jeanine is involved) while eating freshly steamed corn on the cob, tomato and lettuce salad with a lemon vinaigrette, and barbecued chicken. As Jeanine pointed out, all the produce had never seen the inside of a refrigerator. Dessert was a dense and egg-y chocolate cake she made the day before with an icing that evaporated like cotton candy in our mouths, leaving only molecules of dark chocolate on our tongues. We washed it down with bellinis made from whizzed up peaches and dry prosecco. Breakfast the next morning was waffles with ripe Delaware peaches and blueberries. On our ride home we munched tomatoes picked from a friend's garden, sprinkled with a few crystals of gray salt.


Hungry in Kabul

After a wicked bout of jet lag, I found myself starving in Kabul with no place to go! Luckily, the city is flooded with little bread shops, selling warm, fresh naan the size of small children. They cost 10 Afghanis, or roughly 20 American cents! 

I start by peeling the outer edges and shoving them in my face...it is divine! So warm and comforting and filling. I have found the perfect breakfast- if I ever feel the plain naan isn't enough, I can buy a small tub of cream cheese for 65 cents (some people avoid any dairy products here, but I have not had any issues). 

Though the size of the bread is intimidating- it can be eaten in one sitting. Trust me.  

21 August 2008

Aquavit: An Initial Review

Sexy chef Marcus Samuelsson's restaurant, Aquavit, appeared unexpectedly in the midst of Midtown skyscrapers. I was meeting Emily for a spur-of-the-moment chic dinner in honor of the extension of Restaurant Week.

How fitting for us to choose a foodie-haven restaurant named after Sweden's version of moonshine! For me, 'fine dining' is the culmination of gastronomic bliss while unwinding with friends. No way better to achieve this than by pairing food with interesting and tasty alcohols and wines! Aquavit is all the more remarkable for brewing 14 of their own flavors of the traditional Swedish spirit - delicious.

Aquavit has two dining sections, organized much like Gramercy Tavern: a formal dining room with prix-fixe menus in the back, and a much more accessible (both in location, reservations, and price) front café. I was pleasantly surprised at the comfortable atmosphere in the front café, which rather than trigger my Adverse Midtown Reaction, made us both excited to try something new on the Swedish menu.

The polite yet hip waiter informed us that Aquavit does not actually participate in Restaurant Week, but he spoke with the chef to create a menu to accommodate us with a very boring garden salad and meatballs menu for $35. Actually, the prices were reasonable enough that we eschewed that option, deciding instead to create our own tasting of Sweden. First, we ordered from their deliciously inventive cocktail list ($14/each): a Midtown Martini for me in honor of the neighborhood (cucumber aquavit, dry vermouth, salted cucumber garnish), and Emily celebrated my new post on Leblon with a Cranberry Caipirinha (Aquvit NYC, lime, cranberries).

To start we shared the Crayfish Bisque. It was one of those dishes so dazzling that it boggled our tongues and tastebuds! The creamy broth seemed to be made from crayfish broth and butternut squash. It was spicy like a pumpkin pie. In the middle a giant mystery dumpling supported three large and succulent pieces of crayfish. The texture was even more amazing than the flavor. We could not wrap our heads around the dumpling - the dough part had the consistency of a Chinese bun, yet was savory and complex. The waiter approached our table with a secret smile that knew we were stumped.

"It's white bean purée!" he announced triumphantly. Turned out our "dumpling" dough was actually a mixture of white beans and shimp, cradling slivers of foie gras. This dish captured the genius of Samuelsson: he turned a Scandinavian comfort food classic on its head, making it even more interesting by borrowing ingredients and techniques from other cultures.

For our main course, we both couldn't resist ordering the Swedish meatballs. While it was an improvement over what I have had at the Ikea cafeteria, it was a little boring as Samuelsson colored inside the lines on this one. He served a mountain of slightly dry meatballs over creamy mashed potatoes, complemented by a traditional lingonberry sauce and cucumber salad with dill. Very filling, but his meatballs needed both more breadcrumbs to retain moisture and gravy. It was exactly what we ordered, which after the inspired bisque was disappointing.

I look forward to going back to sample more of the seafood items on the menu. The restaurant is a marvelous dining experience I recommend for its originality and inviting atmosphere. A gourmet experience both in the dining room and on the plate, which in the front café, doesn't have to cost you an entire paycheck.

14 August 2008

Party Food!

Last night Marcus, Frank, Angela, and I celebrated the fabulousness of Joanna and Jessica. They have spent their valuable summer months working with Frank and Marcus to bring a new vision to the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce), somehow keeping everyone organized and on track.

To balance the hot weather with the need for a luxurious party feast, Marcus and my Chicken Caesar Salad was on the menu, accompanied by his delectable cheesy garlic bread. As usual, mojitos were to be had. But they were only the start of the many toasts during cocktail hour! We paired the Caesar Salad first with a blanc de blancs champagne, Comte de Gascogne, to tickle our noses. Transitioning with the heavily spiced chicken, we moved onto a 2006 Beaujolais-Villages, and finally to a very ripe and explicit 2002 Australian Shiraz.

I found it fun to try to pair these three very different wines to the meal. Wine pairing is a lot like using complementary colors. The food and wine should work together to make both elements more vivid in your mouth than if they had been alone. The blanc de blancs didn't work as well here, I picture it better with lighter fare. However, the both reds were great with the spices already in the salad.

For dessert J & J transformed a pavlova (lighter than a meringue!) into a 2-layer cake of beauty, sandwiched with whipped cream and strawberries. The trick is you have to eat it fast, before it melts away.

Selfishly, I must admit that one of the highlights of the evening was finding out I had a reader who was not obligated out of love to read this blog! You go Jess! Here, for you, is my Caesar Salad Dressing (for 6 people):

- 1 oz anchovy paste (about 3 tsp.)
- juice of 4 lemons
- quarter cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- salt & pepper to taste

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients until smooth. Slowly add EVOO with one hand while whisking all the time with the other until the dressing reaches desired consistency (usually somewhere between a quarter and a third of a cup)

13 August 2008

Salads of the Non-Lettuce Kind

Having been raised by a health freak, salads are of paramount importance to me. Nothing offends me more than a heaping mess of unappetizing iceberg drowned in a chunky store-bought sauce! Done right, salads can steal the show at a meal. While I am huge fan of a simple, crisp and fresh lettuce salad, I have been enjoying the ones without even more. Here are 3 of my favorite concepts:

1) There are vegetables that are delicious, but are hard to eat with a fork (take carrots, radishes, or fennel for example). It's funny how cutting these types up very finely instantly makes them a thousand times better. My favorite recipe right now uses carrots and radishes

- 4 carrots
- 4 radishes
- 1 small onion
- 2 crushed cloves of garlic
- half a handful freshly chopped coriander
- 4 Tb balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tb EVOO
- salt & pepper to taste

The key here is how you present it: after peeling the carrots, keep using your peeler to cut the carrots into long thin strips. You can keep the skin on the radishes, but peel it into strips the same way. I like to keep the strips of both veggies roughly the same size. Very thinly slice the onion. Combine the veggies in a large salad bowl and dress with crushed garlic, chopped coriander, EVOO, and salt. Mix this around to coat everything, THEN douse it with several healthy splashes of balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper.

This is a very hearty, meaty salad. Great if you're a veggie feeding meat-eating friends.

2) I can't claim credit for this recipe, but I can popularize it! This is Ina Garten's completely fantastic Beets with Orange Vinegrette. I find her flavor combinations here mind-blowing: roasted beets, orange, raspberry vinegar, and red onions. Try adding a handful of chopped basil! It enhances beets' natural sweetness, while the vinegar and the onion give it a great acidic kick in the pants.

3 (15-ounce) cans baby beets, drained
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
2 large seedless oranges, zested
Segments 2 large seedless oranges
(I suggest a handful of chopped basil added at the end)

Drain the beets and dice into 1/2-inch cubes. Place the beets in a mixing bowl and add the raspberry vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and red onions. Zest the oranges and then segment over a bowl to catch the juices. Add the orange zest, orange segments, and any juices and mix well. Taste for seasoning and serve cold or at room temperature.

3) Add some unexpected lusciousness into veggies by sprinkling in some browned pancetta pieces, or hunks of your favorite cheese - soft and semi softs work really well, such as blue cheeses, brie, or goat cheeses. The key here is to make your veggies taste like a luxury. Even my salad-averse boyfriend relishes and regularly demands this chèvre salad:

- breadcrumbs
- either an herbs de provence blend, or handfuls of fresh parsley, rosemary, and basil
- as big a chunk of chèvre as you want (goat's cheese, typically found in the log form in the USA, but exquisite when found in the shape of a thick disk... on a tangent, but if you're in Provence, look for a cheese called Pelardon)
- 2 small heads of Boston Lettuce (Bib or Butter Lettuce work too), washed, torn into bite size pieces
- as big a chunk of pancetta as you want, diced... you can also get the pre-diced variety
- good sherry vinegar
- salt & pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine a little less than a cup of bread crumbs with 2 Tb of herbs de provence - or even better, chopped handfuls of fresh parsley, rosemary, and basil. Season with salt & pepper. Cut the chèvre into individual pieces and coat them well with the breadcrumb mixture.

Heat up your frying pan and drop in the diced pancetta. Once it's thoroughly cooked, place on a paper towel to drain to one side. In the same pan, taking advantage of the fat left over from the pancetta, fry up the breaded chèvre until golden brown and oozing.

In the meantime, heap up the lettuce inside individual bowls. Dress with a drizzle of EVOO, sherry vinegar, salt & pepper. You don't even have to mix it all together, as your very happy diners will soon be mixing it themselves to take full advantage of the pancetta and cheese.

Garnish heartily with pancetta and the fried chèvre slices.

Where Have All the Cafés Gone?

I lie in bed at night worrying about the state of the Manhattan Artist. A breed all but extinct in its nascent form as the young ones just can't afford the island in 2008. Gone are the '60s when anyone could live in Chelsea or the West Village on $70/week, including rent. But even more troublesome than gentrification is this city's dearth of cafés! Allow me to explain:

While enjoying my newfound freedom as a freelance writer, I have come to the conclusion that cafés are a way of life, the lifeblood of any town. Consider the impossibility of the Avant Garde movement had not the Left Bank of Paris been populated with cafés! Where would the Lost Generation abroad have gathered? Cafés nurture business as well as artists by providing a venue where for as little as a cup of coffee anyone can stake out a table for hours at a time, socializing, working, usually the two at once… which leads me to be concerned for New York: we simply do not have anywhere near the kind of Café Culture needed to retain creative types.

Cafés release us from the confines of our too-small apartments, provide a sense of community, and cocoon us with a sense of well being from simple, comfortable habits. It’s free office space, at its best an extra living room where you and all your friends know you can always meet. Café Culture means a slower pace of life where enjoyment of our single tour of this world comes first. It escapism, elbow room, breathing room, and a guaranteed pick-me-up.

There are a few bright spots in this city still: Choux Factory on 87th and 1st Avenue is a haven with wall sockets, free wifi, and plentiful comfortable seating. Their coffee is cheap and strong, and puff pastries filled with flavored cream fillings hold you over until you meander out to the rest of your day. More than any of this though, I love how the staff lets anyone sit as long as they want, the bathroom is clean, AND there is always a stack of old magazines to flip through when my attention flags from writing. This is definitely the exception to the rule as I find that New York has become too bent on making a profit, meaning that few places will leave you in peace - even if you are lucky enough to find a seat in the first place.

Trendster Alert!

Originally only offered in California, VeeV (a liquor made out of powerful antioxident berry açai) has made it to New York! I bartended for the founders (also Columbia grads) a couple years ago. It's a very of-the-moment drink: they tout it as having more antioxidants than pomegranate juice, and they harvest the açai berries in a sustainable way, having set up a charity to protect the land. I have yet to try the stuff, but here's their mailer announcing the New York debut

12 August 2008

Feeling nice

It seems more boutique liquors and liqueurs are being introduced this summer than ever before. This part-time bartender is rejoicing at all these new mixing opportunities! I've particularly been impressed by the high quality and interesting flavors.

First, Absinthe has finally been legalized in the USA, and I had the pleasure to sample Lucid - which claims to be the first legalized brand - at my favorite neighborhood wine store, Mr. Wright. I've tried Absinthe twice, but this was the first time I had it prepared properly: no burning of the sugar cube, and diluted with ice cold water. (The Lucid website has a nice instructional video). Lucid strongly reminded me of the popular Provençal drink, Ricard, with its predominant anise flavor. Lucid is greener in the bottle than Ricard's chartreuse color, but both turned the same cloudy yellowish-white when mixed with water. It's fun to prepare, especially if you've got one of the gorgeous glass fountains and ornate absinthe spoons. I'm inclined to believe that most people drink Absinthe simply for the promise of hallucinations, very rarely for the taste. However, I've never felt anything more exciting than tipsy while drinking the stuff, so please sample with curiosity as to its taste... and if you like it, give Ricard a go!

Interesting drink #2 is the liqueur, St. Germain. Made from wild elderflower blossoms harvested by hand only a few days of the year, this is a really fun with a very nice kind of sweetness that kicks up inexpensive prosecco a notch. To my tongue, it tastes quite a bit of lychee, with perhaps a bit of very ripe pear - the type that is granular and sugary when you bite into it. It's packaged in a beautiful beaux-arts style bottle, making me feel pretty and girly whenever I use it... much like how Paris makes me feel when I visit! Store it in the freezer alongside your vodka for an optimal drinking experience.

Finally, as my post on mojitos revealed, I am a big fan of dark rum. Only in the past few weeks have I been exposed to Brazil's version of rum, Cachaça, a brilliantly delicious light-colored liquor. According to Wikipedia, "Cachaça differs from rum in that it is made from sugarcane juice while rum is made from either molasses or sugarcane juice then aged in oak barrels." Down at the Chelsea Wine Vault the other day, a nice representative from Leblon made me fantastic Caipirinhas (apparently Brazil's national cocktail), and helped me discover that a light sugar cane liquor could taste just as flavorful and have as much depth as a dark rum. My favorite was based off of smashed ripe strawberries, muddled in a mixing glass with mint, lime, and a bit of sugar. The Cachaça was added, the the drink shook. Served over ice. It was even better than a Pimms cocktail on a summer day!

07 August 2008

New Potato Frittata with Ajvar

My favorite way to cook is to use the freshest ingredients I have on hand from trips to farmers markets and specialty stores and combine them in unexpected ways. To get there, I rely on the storehouse of recipes and techniques in my head, compiled from years of cooking, eating at great restaurants, and learning from clever friends who also like to obsess over food.

This particular dish, New Potato Frittata with Ajvar, I made last night in addition to the green salsa and mojitos (recipes found in last post). The point was to use up what I had in my cupboards, while also blending the flavors of the salsa into the frittata so that the transition from the Mexican appetizer to my French-inspired dish made sense on the tongue.

The technique for this dish is adapted from a dish my host mom in Aix-en-Provence, the lovely Danielle Lellouche, made for supper several times. I learned so much by watching her in the kitchen. A deeply practical woman, she was traditional French only when it came to cooking for her family every night. To make it happen, she had no qualms taking shortcuts. In her version, she would use pre-diced frozen potatoes and pre-grated gruyère cheese, and would serve it with a simple salad and crusty baguette. It's the simplicity of French food that makes it so great.

Since this is such a comfort food, I somewhat arbitrarily paired it with one of my favorites side dishes from another one of my home countries, Serbia. Although the combination of Mexican, French, and Serbian sounds a bit strange, it works because the flavors of each ingredient blends so well with the rest. Really, this kind of cooking is a way to celebrate being a citizen of the world by recognizing the common threads that hold otherwise disparate traditions together.

Ajvar (pronounced: EYE-var) is a gorgeous vegetable spread primarily made from red peppers, augmented by a crush of other flavors such as garlic, chili peppers, eggplant, and sometimes zucchini. It's all blended together into a relatively smooth but thick sauce that's great with bread for a snack or as a delicious complement to other dishes. Here's the wikipedia article on it. I first ate it while living in Serbia, where every grandmother has her secret recipe. It's found all over the Balkans, and a Russian friend told me they have their own version too. It sent me over the moon to find a jar of the stuff at a local grocery store yesterday! The 19 ounce jar is already almost empty... Yet I feel far from guilty as it's made primarily out of vegetables. The jar I have cites that each serving contains a measly 10 calories - yet it's so satisfying! The taste is as vibrant as its bright orange-red color, and it's usually found slightly piquant, although mild and very spicy varieties are also available. It's perfect for perking up any dish (and having more veggies in your diet). One of these days I want to try making my own homemade version. Perhaps Cinnamon Jones and and I can convince her Serbian grandmother or aunts to give us their recipes...

- Start with 2 pounds of new potatoes. Wash them well, and keep the skin on if you can, the taste and texture is great. I used a mix of the red and white skinned varieties and cut them all into irregular, 1-inch pieces.
- half a large yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped irregularly
- 2 small jalepeños, chopped finely
- 5 eggs
- a loosly packed cup of grated cheese of your choice. I used an extra sharp cheddar because I had it on hand, but a monterey jack or gruyère would also be tasty in here.
- a handful of chopped cilantro to garnish the top
(also needed: olive oil, salt, pepper, water)

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, and parboil the cut potatoes for 3-4 minutes. You want them almost cooked all the way through. Drain them and let them sit in the colander for a few minutes to steam dry.

Preheat your oven to about 425˚F at this point

Meanwhile, heat up about 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, ovenproof skillet. (We're using more oil than usual to have enough to brown the potatoes beautifully later). Over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic, and jalepeño along with a seasoning of a couple pinches of salt until the onions are translucent and the ingredients have started to melt together. Spread the potatoes evenly across the bottom of the pan, turn up the heat, and let them sit there untouched for a minute or two until they are golden brown and crispy on the underside and you can flip them over.

While you're waiting for the potatoes to crisp up on all sides, beat together 5 eggs with 2 tablespoons of water, all the cheese, with salt and pepper to taste. Once the potatoes are ready, pour the egg mixture into the pan to fill in the gaps between the potatoes, binding it all together. Let cook for a few minutes.

Now, because the top layer of egg in the frittata can't cook when the heat source is at the bottom of the pan, we transfer the pan to the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes, until the top is just beginning to get a crisp to the fluff of the egg and cheese mixture. My dad would always finish his famous omelettes this way in the oven with an extra handful of cheese. As soon as you take the frittata out of the oven, sprinkle the coriander on top, so that it can melt into the top crust that will continue to congeal in the next 2 minutes.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor cut into wedges with a generous dollop of ajvar!

06 August 2008

The title of our blog is a direct homage to Jeffery Steingarten's book, The Man Who Ate Everything. It, and former NYTimes restaurant critic Ruth Reichl's book, Garlic and Sapphires, are two of my all-time favorite food books (not to be confused with cookbooks, which I will have to write about later). Like Reichl, Steingarten augments his scientific discovery of different food topics with recipes that allow you to transfer the written word into a very enjoyable tactile experience. Both of these books are highly practical affairs, and the cooking advice from the recipes are always a value-add. Even 11 years post-publishing, his chapter on cooking with a subsistence budget, "Staying Alive", remains relevant and delicious during our yet-to-be-declared American recession with recipes like Perfumed Rice with Lamb and Lentils and Swiss Chard and Bean Soup with Ricotta Toasts.

But what I appreciate even more than his wisdom-compiling-recipes is his culinary spirit of adventure. Try everything, and if you don't like it, eat it 3 more times prepared by the greatest chefs before you write it off! I have been a practicer of this method even before I knew Jeffrey had made it famous simply because my gluttonous appetite made me curious even about the food I detest: fish, all manner of seafood, and yogurt. Dining at Per Se last year (Chef Thomas Keller's New York version of French Laundry), I was delighted to find that my favorite dish was the Mediterranean fish, dorade. His kitchen found the happiest point between succulent, flaky white flesh and a potato-crisp-like skin. The fresh lightness of its flavor was miles away from the fishy flavor I started detesting back in my fish-stick days. I have also begun to eat all manner of shellfish, but my earlier aversion (perhaps happily) means that I only eat it when at its best. Yogurt I have yet to befriend. It's a texture thing. If you have any suggestions of what restaurants or yogurt dishes may change my mind, do let me know!

For me, the love of creation and The New has drawn me to the kitchen from the start. I began cooking around the age of 6 out of self defense from my mother's pregnant and hormonal taste buds. I believe I began with pasta (which remains my specialty) but it wasn't long before my parents found me early in the morning up to my elbows in flour, baking from a complicated recipe involving stiff peaks of egg whites that I had beaten by hand, not knowing how to operate the mixing machine. This all meant that I was incredibly good at fractions by the time I entered elementary school from learning to divide and multiply recipes. In addition to this early self-interest in cooking, I grew up in Italy, Poland, Serbia, and Germany, which allowed my food explorations to begin early. My mother, a frustrated gourmet trapped cooking for immature palates, taught me from the earliest age how to navigate open-air farmers markets in each of these countries to find the freshest bargains. From the toothless farmers in Poland to the suave negotiating of the Italians, it all fascinated me, and I still go to farmers markets just to enjoy the sounds, smells, and noises. They are constant sources of inspiration. Now in New York, it is easy to continue to enjoy the foods of my youth, and also become acquainted with more sophisticated techniques and diverse palates. Presently I am on a chili binge in defiance of the hot weather, cooking up green salsa every week with tomatillos and jalepeños bought from Angel at our Yorkville Sunday farmer's market at 91st and 1st Av. If you're unfamiliar with tomatillos, they look like green tomatos with corn husks attached. According to Angel, they come in several varieties, which to my eye are only differentiated by size. Here's the recipe:

- enough tomatillos to make about 2 cups when mashed (about 5 large or 10 small.)
- 2 jalepeños (if you don't like to burn your mouth, do 1 or omit the seeds)
- 2 limes
- 1 bunch coriander (cilantro)
- salt to taste

Over your the open flame of your gas range, roast the tomatillos until their skin is charred black. If you're cooking with the small tomatillos, the open flame method is impractical, so try putting your heavy-duty pan over very high heat and toasting the tomatillos in there until charred. Allow them to cool before peeling off their skins with your fingers.

Mash up the flesh of these gorgeous green guys, mixing the very finely chopped jalepeños, juice of the limes, chopped coriander, and salt. If you prefer a medium heat to your salsa, scrape out most of the seeds from the jalepeños before chopping them up. Be sure to wash your hands with soap straight afterwards! My skin is still tingling from an ill-timed scratch post-jalepeño chopping tonight. The proportions here are very flexible to your tastes, but the flavor combinations are crucial. Good to eat with anything from corn chips to eggs.


Another way I especially like to explore flavors is through mixed drinks. I am a part-time bartender at private parties through Columbia's Bartending Agency (www.columbiabartending.com), where I not only get to peek inside gorgeous and sometimes hip apartments, but experiment with my classical mixology training on willing guinea pigs. Having come of age in Eastern Europe, I have a taste for straight hard liquor, especially good vodka. My go-to is Stolichnaya, although I love to try all the new boutique brands that have been coming out lately. I cannot wait to try the traditional vodka made from potatos! Gin I feel is highly underrated, and the refreshment of its herb-y, botanical infusements are particularly good in the summer. What I have been using most in my liquor cabinet this summer, however, is my dark rum as Boyfriend Marcus is addicted to my mojitos. I insist on dark rum instead of the light rum Columbia Bartending School lists in its mixology manuals because the flavor is so much more satisfying: mellow and spicy. I have yet to taste a light rum that doesn't remind me of Bacardi's chemical after-taste. Disgusting swill. My recipe focuses on ease of preparation as I am typically making these in our sweltering apartment with sweat running down my nose, hence the short-cut of using Sprite or 7-Up instead of a more traditional blend of soda water, simple syrup and lime juice.

- a good dozen mint leaves, preferably still attached to their stalks
- at least half a lime per serving
- your favorite dark rum (I've been using Havana Club and Bacardi's 8 year old lately)
- Sprite or 7-Up
- lots of thick chunks of ice - as big as possible so they will melt slower

In a heavy-bottomed glass, muddle the mint with the a wedge or 2 of lime squeezed over it. (For non-bartenders, muddle means to mash your ingredients together. A wooden kitchen spoon works well in place of a dedicated muddler.) Only give it 5 bashes at a maximum: enough to make the flavors stick together, but leave the mint relatively intact.

Now fill up you glass to the rim with the biggest ice cubes you have on hand as nothing's worse than a watered-down drink. Some really great bars are so focused on minimizing meltage that they have special ice cubes frozen in the size of the whole glass, or will double-freeze the ice. Depending on how badly I need the drink I will make the ratios 1:3 or 1:4, dark rum to Sprite.

To finish, rub a lime wedge around the rim of the glass to flavor, squeeze the juice, and drop it in. Use a long-handled spoon to mix the drink within the glass and distribute the mint leaves and lime wedges prettily.


05 August 2008

At-Large Magazine Publishes Me!

Back to the basics:

After two posts that arrived from pure inspiration, we hope to tie on our aprons and provide you with more regularly-timed fare.

Our lives have been changing lately: we now present to you the only foodie blog with a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan! Cinnamon Jones is still settling into her new digs, but we all salivate for her upcoming reviews on Afghan food. (Note: Afghan is the adjective, Afghani the currency)

I, on the other hand, have found myself with a lot more time this August and will stuff this blog full of restaurant reviews, recipes, and other general pieces of advice on what my Provençal friends call bien-être. After 10 weeks frenetically investigating and living as a New York financial services employee, I am looking forward to getting back to a slower pace of life where food and drink is the centerpiece for romance, friends, and exploration.

Check out Angela Williams and Rohin Guha's online literary magazine, At-Large!
They were kind enough to publish my very first article, a review of Thomas Keller's New York restaurant, Per Se. I look forward to the day when I will be able to spend other people's money to review restaurants... a warning for weak stomachs: descriptions of the food are pornographic.