Friday, December 11, 2009

Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce

I have been in love with gnocchi ever since my family went to Italy when I was 16. These little potato dumplings can hold up to many different kinds of sauces, and I ate them at least once a week when I studied in Bologna.
My mom made this particular recipe when I was home for Thanksgiving, and it was so delicious I had to make it again with Ari. It is a really great recipe to make with someone else, since one person can make the gnocchi and the other can make the sauce. You can also use store bought gnocchi, but I swear making them by hand isn't that hard or time consuming, and is really worth the effort. They practically melt in your mouth.

Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce (adapted from Bon Appétit, serves 4)

For gnocchi:
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (2 large)
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch nutmeg
7 (or more) tablespoons flour

For sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
6 ounces fresh baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

3 cups coarsely chopped arugula or spinach
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Bake the potatoes, pierced with a fork, at 450 degrees for about an hour. When finished, mash and mix with egg and spices. Add the flour and mix until firm but elastic, adding more flour as needed. Divide dough into four portions. Roll out one portion on a floured surface into a long tube, about one inch thick, then cut into 1 inch pieces. Roll each piece off of the tines of a fork to get a ridged effect. (This takes a little practice) Place gnocchi on a flour covered baking sheet. Repeat with other three portions. Cook for 3-4 minutes in a pot of boiling salted water.
Meanwhile, sauté the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat for two minutes. Add the mushrooms and shallots and sauté for ten minutes. Add the stock and sage and simmer for eight minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and add the cooked gnocchi and simmer for another minute. Add the arugula or spinach and stir until wilted. Top with cheese.

We accompanied this with a really lovely 2005 Masi Campfiorin, from Verona. It was a birthday gift from my housemates, and was a perfect compliment to the gnocchi. I am a little biased towards Italian wines, but this one was full and smooth, with a wonderful taste in the mouth.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thanksgiving (a little late)

I realize that it has been a couple of weeks since Thanksgiving, but due to the end of the semester and work piling up, I haven't had a lot of time to write. However, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so it really deserves a spot on here.
My parents started hosting Thanksgiving at our house more than 20 years ago when they moved to Woodbury and I was just a wee thing. Ever since then, it has only grown and just about anyone is welcome. In the past, we have had family, friends, (ex) significant others and a few random people who came along. It is inevitably chaotic, loud, messy, and delicious, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Since much of my family is based in Minnesota, a small year means around 30 people for dinner, and if my mom's side can come, there are about 60 of us. It sounds a little crazy, and it is never very calm, but it means that I get to see people who I haven't seen in a while and of course, there is the food.
My parents are always in charge of the turkey and the dressing. This year, they bought two organic free range turkeys from a nearby farm, and I have to say it was definitely worth it. It wasn't at all dry, and the skin was crispy and salty and delicious. The dressing is a classic, the same one my mom makes every year. I used to hate it when I was little, but now it is one of my favorite parts of the meal, especially on leftover sandwiches. It is pretty simple, just croutons, carrots, and celery and some spices, but it makes a perfect compliment to the turkey. This year she also made maple cranberries, which were fantastic. Instead of the typical jellied cranberries, these were sweetened just enough and tasted more like candy than fruit.
The rest of the meal consisted of dishes that all of the guests brought. This was a small year, only around 25, so there wasn't as much (but still a ton of leftovers). My favorites were an amazing corn pudding that tasted almost like a frittata, and a green salad with tofu with a really great dressing. Of course, the Minnesota classic of baked green beans with cream of mushroom soup, topped with fried onion bits also made an appearance. I know it sounds a little odd, but beleive me, it is wonderful. The meal finished with five different kinds of pie, which I only ate a few bites of because after two plates of food, I was about to burst. I actually tried to lay on my stomach, but it hurt too much. However, it was, as always, worth it, and this Thanksgiving was just as wonderful as the last.
There is never exactly the same group of people at our house, but every year there is always enough food for everyone, the kids are still running around outside, and the kitchen is always way too crowded. This is probably my favorite tradition, and I am really glad that it has continued for so long. Of course, the turkey sandwhiches the next day don't hurt either.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Restaurant Review: Pylos

If asked to go out to a restaurant, I would probably choose French or Italian. However, I am always up for new things, and on Saturday night I got to go to a great Greek place on the Lower East Side called Pylos. Ari and his friend Will have been there a couple times and said great things, so we all went there with his parents to celebrate various birthdays and visits. The first thing you see when you walk in is that the ceiling is covered in clay pots, which look rather like they are about to crash onto your table.
Will's dad John is very knowledgeable about wine, so he took over talking to the waiter and asked for a medium dry red, something similar to a burgundy. He presented us with a Megapanos Nevea Peloponese from 2005, which was lovely -- dry and a little fruity, with just a hint of honey and an almost grassy taste. We then entrusted the waiter to order a variety of hot and cold appetizers for the table. However, as a preliminary appetizer, we got pita bread with hummus. The pita bread was excellent, hot and a little crispy but not dry. The hummus, however was a bit bland and didn't have a lot of flavor. Luckily, the cold appetizers came shortly. We began with a trio of dipping sauces -- moussaka, tzatziki, and some sort of fish sauce. The moussaka was my favorite, garlicky and perfectly seasoned. We also had a delicious Greek salad consisting of fresh tomatoes, capers, red onions, olives, feta cheese, and cucumber. The other salad I found a little odd, which was made of romaine lettuce and small pieces of feta tossed in a very acidic vinaigrette.
We then moved on to the hot appetizers, which were overall incredible. The first was grilled octopus, which I had never had and was not expecting to like. It was firm, a little fishy, and not at all chewy, and the grilled barbecue flavor set it off wonderfully. We also got calamari, which I love, and was excellent. It was prefefctly fried and crispy, and great with just a little lemon juice over the top. Next was fried eggplant, sliced extremely thin and crispy. Then came a mixture of three Greek cheeses, melted and mixed with a little tomato sauce. That was followed by squares of puff pastry filled with beef, tomatos, and a mild cheese.
After all of that, I was beginning to feel a little full, but the entrées were still to come. I ordered a pistachio-crusted wild sea bass, topped with a little feta cheese and served over a bed of kale and tomatoes. It was an excellent choice, well seasoned and crispy on the outside. The kale perfectly complemented the fish, which was flaky and mild. Ari had the braised short ribs, which I tried a little of and have to say, even though I am not a big red meat eater, it was delicious. The meat practically fell off the bone, and it was served with a potato and porcini mushroom mash, which gets me every time. Actually, I am pretty much guaranteed to like anything with porcini mushrooms, especially when butter is added.
Even though we were all extremely full at this point, dessert was a necessity. Ari and I split an almond honey cake with flakes of chocolate and espresso mixed in, accompanied by a Greek yogurt ice cream. At this point I was so full of food and wine that I could only manage a few bites (a rarity, I promise, as I always have room for dessert). Will and John also tried 100 year old dessert wine, which was incredibly rich and almost syrupy. I tried a sip and while it was very sweet, it also had hints of spice and an almost maple flavor. I don't know if I could handle a whole glass of it, but just a sip was lovely. A perfect end to a wonderful meal.

Photo from
For more information, go to

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spaghetti alla Ricotta

This is an incredibly simple recipe that I learned while studying in Bologna last fall. We were lucky enough to take cooking lessons from a woman named Rita Mazzoli, an incredible person and a fantastic cook. These lessons were the some of the highlights of my semester, and we learned how to make everything from homemade pasta to tiramisù. However, this was one of the simplest recipes and holds true to the saying that if you use great ingredients, the simplest preparation is all you need.
However, I like to have pasta with some vegetables, so I usually add peas or other vegetables. I ate this pretty much every week in Bologna, so this time I decided to change it up a little and add some sauteed mushrooms and toasted pine nuts. However, the original preparation is beautiful in its simplicity, and makes a great first course or light dinner. The ricotta makes a deliciously creamy sauce, and the lemon zest adds just the right amount of tang.

Spaghetti alla Ricotta (serves 2)

4 oz spaghetti
1/3 cup ricotta cheese (if you can, get the real Italian kind from a deli, but the supermarket brand will do)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup Parmiggiano Reggiano, grated (you can also use cheaper parmesan, but I think that the real stuff is worth the investment)
2-3 tablespoons water
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the spaghetti al dente in a pot of boiling water, 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix all other ingredients in a medium bowl, taking care to mix thoroughly and season well. When the pasta is done boiling, add to sauce and mix. Top with more parmiggiano reggiano.

That's it. I typically add 1/4-1/3 cup of frozen peas (boiled for 2-3 minutes), and this time added some sauteed mushrooms and pine nuts, which were a nice addition. The mushrooms should be sliced thinly and sauteed in 1 tablespoon of olive oil with a little salt and pepper, for about seven minutes. The pine nuts can be toasted in a sauté pan over medium heat for 5 minutes or so, or roasted in the oven at 375 for 7-8 minutes.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Carmelized-Onion Pizza with Mushrooms

I used to hate onions and mushrooms, so it was a pretty big step for me to try this, but now it is one of my favorite dinners of all time. My mom found this a few years ago in Gourmet (which I still can't believe is closed), and makes it pretty often. I decided to make it for Ari and my housemates, to rave reviews, so I'm sure we will be making it again. The longest part is carmelizing the onions, but it is worth it to get them that deep golden color. As usual, my notes are in italics.

Carmelized-Onion Pizza with Mushrooms (from Gourmet Magazine, March 2006)

  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lb onions (3 large), thinly sliced
  • 1 lb frozen pizza dough, thawed
  • 6 oz fresh cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced (or regular button mushrooms, although they have a milder taste)
  • 1 (5-oz) package Boursin garlic-herb cheese (or Alouette cheese, which we eat A LOT of in my apartment)


Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onions with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to moderate and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 15 minutes more. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and deep golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool to warm, about 10 minutes. This usually takes me longer, around 45 minutes total.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 475°F.

While onions cool, coat pizza dough with 1 tablespoon oil in a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan and stretch and press dough to cover bottom (dough may be resistant to stretching at first, but it will soon relax). Spread onions evenly over dough. Toss mushrooms with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and remaining tablespoon oil in a bowl, then spread evenly over onions. Crumble cheese evenly over mushrooms.

Bake pizza until underside of dough is golden and cheese is beginning to brown, 14 to 16 minutes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Restaurant Review: Adrienne's Pizza

Wall Street is not a place you would expect to find great restaurants. Of course, there are a lot of good lunch places, but many of them close around seven, sort of contradicting the idea that everything is open in New York until late. However, just down from the Stock Exchange is a little cobblestoned street that looks as if you could be in Europe. Stone Street boasts several restaurants of all different cuisines, most of which have tables outside. Being Scandanavian, I was immediately excited about the Norwegian /Swedish restaurant (it is impossible to find good Swedish meatballs outside of Minnesota), but I'll have to save that for another time.
Instead, Ari and I decided to try Adrienne's Pizza across the street. A friend of his had been there and said that it was excellent. We didn't have to wait for a table, even on a Saturday night, and the interior is modern and dimly lit, with candles at each table. It is not overly romantic though, with techno music blasting from the speakers (which actually reminded me of Italy and their fondness for techno). The menu is short (always a good sign for me), with about eight different kinds of pizza, some antipasti and salads, and a few pastas. The wine list was pretty extensive, but a little on the expensive side with the cheapest bottle of wine starting at $30. I still wanted a glass of wine, however, so I ordered one of Sangiovese for $9. It was pretty good, dry and a nice accompaniment to the meal. If I go back, however, I will probably see if they have a corkage fee and bring my own.
To eat, we decided on an antipasto of four different cheeses and a pizza with prosciutto, potatoes, and scallions ($15). The antipasto was perfect -- we ordered the smaller size ($8), which was perfect and came with a piece of bruschetta, topped with a mixture of tomatos, basil, and onions, as well as some olives. The cheese was a perfect accompaniment to my glass of wine. Then, the pizza came. This was definitely one of the best pizzas I have had since returning from Italy. The prosciutto was salty and crispy, the potatoes balanced it perfectly, and the scallions were a great addition. The crust might have been the best part, not at all soggy and perfectly seasoned. My only complaint would be that both Ari and I needed to add pepper.
The service was also only so-so. We received everything very quickly, but almost too quickly. It felt more like we were rushed through the whole meal, rather than being able to savor it. However, I want to go back and try more of their pizzas, so I guess I can just put up with the service. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures, but for more information you can go to:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Restaurant Review: Café Noir

I was back in New York again this weekend, which is always a lovely change of pace from small-town Connecticut. Ari and I went out with a few of his friends to one of their favorite places, Café Noir in Soho. Neither of us had ever been there, but it ended up being a wonderful choice. Being a Friday night in New York City, it was of course very crowded and we had to wait for a bit for a table. The interior was pretty dark, with kind of a Moroccan/French café feel.
We decided to let Ashley and Jimmy take over since they had been there before, and started off
with a few appetizers. The tuna tartare was fantastic, mixed with tomatoes, and topped with fried tortilla strips. The hummus was pretty good, topped with feta cheese and served with grilled slices of pita bread. The spicy lamb meatballs were also excellent, with just the right amount of spice and served with tzatziki sauce and cucumbers. Last, we had the calamari à la parilla, which I had never tried before. It was delicious -- lemony and fresh and buttery, grilled instead of fried. After all of that and a pitcher of their well-known sangria (also delicious), Ari and I split the Valencia paella, which was fantastic. I haven't had paella too often, but this is definitely the best paella I have ever had. The rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned, with just a little spice. It was mixed with mussels, shrimp, chicken, and chorizo sausage. Everyone else got different burgers, which they said were very good as well. The french fries were pretty good, larger-cut but slightly on the soggy side.
Of course, when I thought I couldn't eat any more, we got dessert. The five of us shared the crème brûlée and the chocolate cake. I have never had crème brûlée that can rival my mom's, especially at restaurants where you risk the top being soggy, but I have to admit this was pretty delicious. The chocolate cake was fantastic -- soft and melted in the middle with the perfect amount of chocolate. This was accompanied by a macchiato for me, the perfect end to a wonderful meal. I will definitely be going back.

Café Noir is located on 32 Grand Street in Manhatten. It is a little on the expensive side, at least for us college students, but their menus and more information is available on their website at
Photo from

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The First Tasting: Argentinian Malbec

For our first official tasting in the apartment, Zoe, Hilary and I ventured to the local liquor store, which actually has a pretty good wine selection. In order to make tasting simpler, we decided to narrow our search down to bottles under $10, and to concentrate on one region. My parents are big fans of Malbecs, practically the national wine of Argentina. These usually pair very well with steak (although they were pretty good with tofu as well). We tried three wines, all from the Mendoza region, and while we all had some different opinions, we could mostly come to a consensus. Overall, an excellent first tasting.

Cabrini Malbec, 2007: Dry and fruity without being overly sweet, with lovely deep burgundy color. Rachel thought it was kind of bitter, but it was actually my favorite. $7.99.

Bodega Norton, 2008: Dryer, thinner, and more acidic than the first. Still good, but definitely not as full bodied as the Cabrini. As Zoe said, "I drank it without even realizing I was drinking". However, her friend Ida actually liked it better, and I thought it did open up more as it sat out. $8.99

Pascual Toso, 2007:Probably the most subtle of the three, this one had more complex flavors than the other two and has actually won a lot of awards. Rachel thought it was quite sweet, with an almost sparkling quality. I thought that it had really nice fruity qaulities, but the finish was a little acidic. A good buy for $9.99 though.

In conclusion, our favorite was actually the Caprini, which by chance was the cheapest of the three. Of course, each person has their own individual tastes, and it also helps to pair wine with certain kinds of food to bring out the flavors. However, cheese and bread are usually a safe bet, especially for reds. I think that tasting is the best way to find your own tastes.
Hopefully we will be able to try to do this every couple of weeks (it helps to have willing friends), and maybe next time we can venture to Italy (my favorite, although perhaps I am biased from studying in Bologna for a semester!).

Stir Fried Green Beans wih Peanut Sauce, Fresh Tofu, and Chiles

This is one of my all time favorite recipes from a really great cookbook, Tyler Florence's Eat This Book. Everything I have ever made out of it is delicious, and I have actually made this recipe four times this year already. It takes about half an hour total to prepare, and also makes great leftovers. We used this to finish off our dinner last night.

Stir Fried Green Beans with Peanut Sauce, Fresh Tofu, and Chiles (Adapted from Eat This Book)

1/2 cup peanut oil
1 1/4 pounds green beans, halved on the bias, or snow peas
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, white and green parts, chopped, or 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 dried red chile, or red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 (15 ounce) block of firm tofu, cut in one inch cubes
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, sliced crosswise into rounds
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

Pour the peanut oil into a large sauté pan or wok and place over high heat. When the oil is smoking hot, add the green beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes, remove to a platter lined with paper towels to drain. Sauté the tofu in the same pan until it begins to brown on the sides.
Add the ginger, garlic, onions, and chile to the pan, and stir fry until you can smell the fragrance of the aromatics. Return the green beans to the pan and season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the stock and cornstarch to make a slurry and add that to the pan (I have skipped this step before and it is fine without it too). Add the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and peanut butter. Simmer until the sauce is thickened and the beans are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Garnish with sliced jalapeño and chopped peanuts, and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4.

Zucchini Pancakes

I am so lucky to have roommates who appreciate food. Last night, Hilary, Zoe and I made a fantastic (and vegetarian) dinner for a couple of friends. We started off with zucchini pancakes, which I had eaten before like breakfast pancakes, but I had never had a savory version. Luckily, the Barefoot Contessa is here to help.

Zucchini Pancakes (from Barefoot Contessa at Home)

2 medium zucchini (about 3/4 pound)
2 tablespoons grated red onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6-8 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
unsalted butter and vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grate the zucchini into a bowl using the large grating side of a box grater (we didn't have this, so we just julienned it very finely) Immediately stir in the onion and eggs. Stir in 6 tablespoons of the flour, the baking powder, salt, and pepper. (If the batter gets too thin from the liquid in the zucchini, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour.)
Heat a large (10-12 inch) sauté pan over medium heat and melt 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil together in the pan. When the butter is hot but not smoking, lower the heat to medium-low and drop heaping soup spoons of batter into the pan. Cook the panckaes about two minutes on each side, until browned. Place the pancakes on a sheet pan and keep warm in the oven. Wipe out the pan with a dry paper towelm add more butter and oil to the pan, and continue to fry the pancakes until all the batter is used. The pancakes can stay warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 10 3-inch pancakes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tarte Tatin

This can be an intimidating recipe, but it is actually not too difficult and it tastes fantastic. It also looks pretty impressive. The one thing to be careful about is the heat of your stove and oven -- I am still not used to ours, so the cooking times were different than in the recipe and the top got a little burned. This is one of my favorite desserts, and definitely worth all of the effort. I took the recipe from (one of my favorite websites, it compiles all of the recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appétit Magazines), but made some adaptations, so my notes are in italics.

Tarte Tatin (from

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 6 tablespoons chilled sour cream (I used the same amount of Greek yogurt, to the same effect)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 11 medium-size Pippin apples (about 4 3/4 pounds), peeled, quartered, cored

  • 1 egg, beaten to blend (glaze)
Crème fraîche or sour cream


Blend flour, sugar and salt in large bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Add butter and beat at medium-low speed until butter is size of small lima beans, about 3 minutes. (If you don't have a mixer, like us, you can also whisk vigourously, which works pretty well) Add sour cream and beat until moist clumps form, about 1 minute. Gather dough into smooth ball; flatten into 6-inch-diameter disk. Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Let soften slightly before rolling out.)

Spread butter over bottom of 12-inch-diameter ovenproof nonstick skillet with sloping sides (skillet should be at least 1 3/4 inches deep). Reserve 2 tablespoons sugar; sprinkle remaining sugar over butter. Place skillet over medium-low heat and cook until butter melts, sugar begins to dissolve and mixture starts to bubble, about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat. Arrange apples on their sides around edge of skillet, placing tightly together. Arrange as many of remaining apples as will fit, pointed ends up, in 2 circles in center of skillet. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.

Set skillet over medium-high heat; boil until thick peanut butter-color syrup forms, repositioning skillet often for even cooking and adding remaining apples as space permits, about 45 minutes (syrup will continue to darken during baking). Remove from heat; wrap handle several times with heavy-duty foil. (This step only took about 30 minutes for me, so watch it closely)

Meanwhile, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425 °F.

Roll out pastry on floured surface to 12-inch round; place over apples. Cut four 2-inch slits in top of pastry. Press pastry down around apples at edge of skillet; brush pastry with some of egg glaze.

Bake tart until pastry is deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. (Again, I left it in for about 25 minutes) Transfer to work surface; cool 1 minute. Cut around edge of skillet to loosen pastry. Place large platter over skillet. Using oven mitts as aid, hold skillet and platter together tightly and invert, allowing tart to fall onto platter. Carefully lift off skillet. Rearrange any apples that may have become dislodged. Cool tart 30 minutes.

Cut warm tart into wedges. Serve with crème fraîche.

Hooray! Also, thanks to my roommate Hilary for the pictures. Beautiful.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Last weekend I was lucky enough to go to New York, and among the outstanding food I had (as always), was dinner at Max. Ari had heard about the place from his friend, and we decided to see what all the talk was about. It ended up being one of my favorite meals so far this year. The restaurant itself is pretty small, and the kitchen is right in the middle, so immediately you are bombarded with delicious smells. We waited for a little while to be seated, but considering it was the Lower East Side on a Saturday night, I didn't think it was too bad.
They had some excellent specials that night, so we opted to split the figs, prosciutto, and pecorino to start off with. This was served very simply, with no sauce and only black pepper as a garnish, but the figs were juicy and succulent, the prosciutto was lean and sliced perfectly, and the pecorino was deliciously salty. Figs are hard to get in Minnesota, and usually slightly outside the budget of the college student, so I eat them whenever I can. For an entrée, I had the special of house-made goat cheese and sundried tomato ravioli, finished with a cherry tomato and cream sauce. The sauce was seasoned perfectly and made the most of the late-season tomatoes, while being light enough to not overwhelm the taste of the pasta. Ari got the lamb ragù with hand-made spaghetti from the regular menu, which was also fantastic. The ragù reminded me of the one we learned how to make in Bologna, its subltle flavors combining and yet not overwhelming each other. By the end, we were both completely full, so we decided to save dessert for another time and got a black and white cookie instead (perfect).

To drink, Ari decided on the old favorite of Bologna, where we both studied, Lambrusco. If you haven't had this before, it is a sparkling red wine that is usually served chilled, and has a slightly sweeter ant tangier taste than many other reds. We used to buy it for about 3 euros, but it is harder to find here and usually runs around $11 a bottle. It is great with pretty much all Italian food, but of course especially with the specialties of the region.
I decided to try the Nero di Troia, I wine I had never had before, but which sounded similar to Nero d'Avola, one of my favorite grapes from Sicily. This was from Puglia, in the south of Italy, a region not neccessarily known for its wine. However, I was pleasantly surprised, and found it smooth and a wonderful accompaniment to the ravioli. The vintage I had was from 2005, and while I don't know that this is a very common wine in the U.S., it is definitely possible to find bottles under $15. I'll be keeping my eye out.

All in all, it was a fantastic dinner and I will absolutely be returning. For more information about Max, you can go to their website:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Coconut Macaroons

These are one of my favorite kinds of cookies and are really easy -- they take literally two minutes to mix up. Plus, they are actually not too bad for you... and are also really great dipped in chocolate. I tripled this recipe, but it makes 4 cookies as is.

Coconut Macaroons (from
  • Butter and flour for preparing baking sheet and foil
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 300°F. Butter a baking sheet, then line with foil and lightly butter and flour foil, knocking off excess flour.

Stir together egg white, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, and a pinch of salt until combined, then stir in coconut. Divide coconut mixture into fourths, then drop in 4 mounds (about 2 inches apart) onto baking sheet.

Bake until tops are pale golden in spots, 15 to 20 minutes, then carefully lift foil with cookies from baking sheet and transfer to a rack to cool completely, about 15 minutes. Peel macaroons from foil.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

They have vineyards in Minnesota??

As there is currently a lack of wine in my apartment, I have decided to talk about the vineyard that I worked at last summer, Alexis Bailly. Based in a small town in southern Minnesota, it was started in 1977 and makes about 3,000 cases of wine a year. I know, it is hard to believe that there are vineyards in MN, since it is apparently -25 degrees all year round. But somehow they survive, and in fact, the Midwest was recently named the largest wine region in the country. In any case, I loved working in their tasting room this summer and learned a lot.
I would just like to preclude this by saying that while I did work in the tasting room, I definitely still have a LOT to learn and I am not one of those people that can easily identify each individual flavor in wine. It takes practice and time, and mostly I think that since everyone has very different tastes, we all taste different things in a wine. For example, in the wine world, there is of course a lot of talk about "red berries" and "vanilla", but also about "freshly mowed grass" or teh "animalistic taste". While these descriptions can be accurate and helpful, sometimes I wonder if someone is just pulling ridiculous words out of their mind and it really has nothing to do with the wine itself. Tasting, really tasting wine is a subtle and complicated business, but I will try to steer away from such descriptions.
Anyways, most of the grapes that Alexis Bailly and other northern vineyards use are unfamiliar to most since they are engineered to survive in colder climates, and actually the University of Minnesota has a rapidly expanding viticulture program that has developed several varieties. However, here are my favorites:

Seyval Blanc: This grape is actually grown in the Finger Lakes region in New York, but they import the juice and make the wine on site. It has a very light, clean, crisp taste and does not have the very sweet or sour aftertaste that many white wines do, like a lot of more inexpensive chardonnays. Wonderful with fish or by itself and perfect for a hot day. $14.99

Rosé Noir: Another great summer wine, this is a wonderful rosé that is sweet without being cloying, with hints of strawberry and peach. I pretty much drank this all summer. Made of Maréchal Foch and DeChaunac, two French-American hybrid grapes, the skins are removed before they are pressed, resulting in the dark rose color and sweeter taste. $12.99

Voyageur: My favorite, this wine has won a lot of awards in Minnesota and nationwide, and has been called the best Minnesota wine ever. A blend of Maréchal Foch, Léon Millot, and Frontenac (developed by the U of M), it is a complex red table wine, fruity and not too dry. Most of the wine from Alexis Bailly is meant to be drank within the year, but the Voyageur could age for a few years and develop its complexity even more. $21.99

For more information go to:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Butternut Squash Risotto

For my first recipe, I thought I should one of my all time favorite recipes. This can actually be modified to nearly anything you want -- simply replace the squash with different vegetables, such as mushrooms, asparagus, or broccoli. No pictures this time, since I actually made this a few nights ago, but I will try in the future.

For the Risotto:

1 large butternut squash
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, small diced
2 cups arborio or short grain rice
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup parmiggiano reggiano
salt and pepper

Cut the squash crosswise in slices about 1 1/2 inches thick, and place skin side down on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, and roast for about 45 minutes at 450 degrees, until golden and tender. About 30 minutes into the roasting, start the risotto. Melt the butter in a large skillet or pot and add the onion. Sauté for 5-10 minutes until soft. Add the rice and sauté for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the grains become translucent on the edges and white spots appear in the middle. Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Then, begin adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, until it is all absorbed (this will take about half an hour).
By this time the squash should be done. Peel and dice, and when almost all of the stock has been absorbed, add the squash to the risotto. Finish adding all of the stock, and stir in half the parmiggiano reggiano. The rice should be soft but have a slight bite to it. Finish with the rest of the parmiggiano, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

The Epiphany

When I was little, I never dreamed of being a cook. A ballerina, sure, or an actress, but the kitchen had never been part of my plans for the future. I can remember making oatmeal cookies with my mom and helping my dad make chili or chicken and rice (a perennial favorite), but my life really changed when I went to France for the first time when I was 16. This epiphany came in the form of a tiny restaurant in Arles, in the south of France, run by a husband and wife team. She cooked, he did everything else. There were about twenty seats in the whole restaurant, which had stone walls, old wood floors, and worn wooden tables and chairs. We went to dinner around 7:30, early for the French, and closed the place down.
At that point, I was still hesitant about many foods, so I decided to play it safe and order a salad. I don't even remember exactly what was in it, but I remember being astonished by the freshness of all of the ingredients and how each one accentuated and yet blended perfectly with the rest of the flavors. My mother ordered salmon, to this day the most perfect salmon I have ever tasted. Brightly colored and flaky, it melted in your mouth. My dad ordered a steak, cooked perfectly medium. For dessert were profiteroles, small pastry balls filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce, topped with a cage of sugar strands. It was the first time I have ever had it, and remains the most memorable.
That trip opened my eyes to the possibilities of food. Since then, I have tried to cook whenever possible and learn as much as I can. Last year I was lucky enough to study for a semester in Bologna, Italy, the birthplace of Parmiggiano Reggiano, balsamic vinagar, prosciutto, and tortelloni. This helped further my education in food, and also sparked an interest in wine, which continued this summer when I worked in a vineyard in Minnesota. Yes, there are vineayrds in Minnesota. Most are small, and all have difficulty with the cold, but there are some surprisingly decent wines that are being produced there.

Cooking, at its base, is about sharing. So that is what I would like to do with this blog -- share my experiences and adventures in cooking (and drinking) with you. As a senior in college on a small and somewhat isolated campus, it can be hard to think of cooking ideas that taste good and are also inexpensive. Additionally, I think that many people, especially college students, don't know a lot about wine and are intimidated to learn. So, I will also try to bring you along on my own education in viniculture and viticulture, concentrating mostly on bottles under $15. For my friends and I, a fancy bottle generally means spending over $10, but there are some surprisingly good wines out there for not very much money if you are willing to look. Of course, every person has their own tastes, but a sense of adventure is essential. If you are willing to venture beyond boxed wine, I don't think you will be disappointed.

For now, I will be posting recipes, reviewing restaurants, and tasting wine. Of course, it always helps to have roommates who appreciate good food and who aren't afraid to try new things. Pairing food and wine is tricky, and takes a lot of expirimentation -- but I'm willing to try.