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Top 10 (Things I Love) :: Oct ’11


Smorgas Chef, West Village NYC

1. Smorgas Chef, West Village

Nestled on a corner in the West Village, Smorgas Chef is a cozy, authentic Swedish restaurant that I discovered last month when a friend was in town. I have heard good reviews but haven’t had the chance to try it yet, and am I glad I did! Their food style is labeled “New Nordic Cuisine”, and everything on the menu is locally sourced and organic. The interior is small but has a large bar, and has a warm, ambient lighting that is cozy and romantic. They also have outside seating on their front patio as well as wrapped around the side of the building which is really nice on a crisp Fall night. We started our evening with Lingonberry Margaritas (quite potent I must add!) while we waited for our seats. We nibbled on some delicious Gravlaks Croquettes, which has generous pieces of luscious smoked salmon atop crispy potato cakes with chives and horseradish creme fraiche.

For our main dish we had to try their infamous Swedish Meatballs – WoW. Party in your mouth! The dish is almost enough for 2 people – you get about 10-12 decent sized meatballs slathered in a creamy light brown gravy, with whipped garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed julienne vegetables. The key to this dish is not only try them with the tangy and tart Lingonberry Preserves, but also ask for a side of Cloudberry Preserves (another delicious golden berry used in Swedish cooking that tastes like raspberry, strawberry and mango). For dessert, we ordered strong espressos and a pot of one of their many signature Swedish herbal teas. If we had more room, we might have tried the Scandanavian Soft Vanilla Waffles with Cloudberry preserves and Chantilly cream or the Honey Milk Chocolate Mousse but we were just so damn full from the Meatballs that we almost took a nap right there on the table. Love this place, will definitely be back for more Swedish yummy yums! They also have locations in the Financial District and in the Scandanavian House on Park Avenue.

Smorgas Chef, West Village
283 W. 12th St | New York NY 10014 | 212.243.7073

Check out Smorgas Chef online

Pane Panelle

2. Pane Panelle @ Stuzziceria, Tribeca

Pane Panelle is the new sandwich shop attached to Stuzziceria in TriBeCa that was just voted #2 Best Sandwich in NYC by New York Magazine in August ’11. I had to try this place out for myself after all the good reviews and my office being across the street from both places! I tried the Meatball and Mozzarella Panini which was perfect in its crispy grilled exterior with savory meatballs and sauce with tons of gooey cheese on the interior. They also sell meatballs and sauce by the pint if you want to just take them home and throw them over some fresh cooked pasta.

The sandwich shop and restaurant is run by Chef Paul di Bari, with a variety of other Sicilian-style sandwiches including a muffuletta with salami, provolone and an olive salad and their namesake sandwich with chickpea fritters, caciocavallo and ricotta cheese on Grandaisy bread. The price is a little steep at around $8-9 per sandwich, but they are so good you just can’t pass them up!

Pane Panelle TriBeCa
305½ Church St. between Lispenard St. and Walker St. | 212.219.2357

Check out Pane Panelle online

Mexicue Food Truck

3. Mexicue Food Truck

I remember not too long ago complaining about how there are very few affordable lunch options in the TriBeCa area, most restaurants being a bit more on the shi-shi side and a bit more than I’d like to spend on a daily basis when I’m just looking for some quick, good grub for lunch. Alas, the Mexicue Food Truck appeared on Church Street and I got really excited! The brand name says it all – their delicious sliders and tacos are a perfect mixture of BBQ and Mexican flavors all rolled into some really tasty morsels. I sampled the Smoked Short Rib Slider – full of super tender smoked short ribs slathered in a Memphis Mole sauce, topped with pickled onions, romaine lettuce and cojita cheese. The Burnt Ends Slider is almost like a super fancy Sloppy Joe, but mini-sized and fantabulous flavors – the chili is made of pulled brisket mixed with ground beef, then topped with a cilantro lime crema and house pickled jalapenos. These guys definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to flavorful fast food. I haven’t stopped dreaming of the next time I can get my hands on some these notable noshes! Besides their mobile food trucks, you can also find these guys in Midtown West on 7th Avenue and on Forsyth St on the Lower East Side.

Check out Mexicue’s menu and locations online

Wafles & Dinges

4. Wafles & Dinges Food Truck

Now here’s something worthy of talking about. I’m not one to have much of a sweet tooth, but last month I was swayed by a friend (as well as the friendly food truck guy) at Wafles & Dinges to sample some of these luscious golden crisp Belgian Waffles slathered in Spekuloos spread, bananas and powdered sugar. I have always loved Belgian Waffles – but Spekuloos spread? What the hell is that? I had to try it. All I can say is its a cross between a butterscotch and hazelnut flavor and has the consistency of a creamy syrup (almost like a melty Nutella) and is completely divine. Nothing like I’ve ever tasted. That’s it. I’m officially hooked.

They have a ton of toppings (dinges) which you can get UNLIMITED for $2 extra. They refer to this as WMD, or Wafel of Massive Deliciousness. Dulce de Leche, Belgian Chocolate Fudge, Maple Syrup, Whipped Cream, Ice Cream, the list goes on. You can even get some savory Wafels like BBQ Pulled Pork (next on my list) or de Bacon Syrup Wafel which sounds pretty darn cool too. Chow it all down with a hot Belgian Cocoa or Coffee with a shot of hazelnut – you’ve got the perfect sweet snack in the middle of Central Park (or wherever you might discover them on the streets of NYC!) Awesome. Just sayin’.

Check out Wafels & Dinges online

KitchenAid Appliance Demo

5. KitchenAid 3-Speed Hand Blender

So I found a new toy to play with. A serious cooking toy, that is. I had the opportunity to attend a product demo with KitchenAid at SeeFood media kitchens on the Lower East Side – one of New York’s premiere food photography and video studios. Not only did we get to preview first hand some of KitchenAid’s new products, but we were served delicious nibbles from local food purveyors such as Katz Deli, Doughnut Plant, Russ & Daughters, Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery, Boubouki and Bisous Ciao. We sampled Pastrami Sandwiches, homemade doughnuts, smoked salmon, knishes, spanakopita and yummy macarons…too much good food to even talk about!

KitchenAid has a great new line of stand mixers, food processors and a 3-speed hand blender that does all the chopping, crushing, whisking and pureeing you’ll ever need in one handy little tool! This probably has become my favorite all-purpose tool with its handsome design, lightweight body and smart precise mechanics that is totally portable and actually fits perfect in my small NYC kitchen! It’s perfect for chopping herbs and veggies, mixing soups and pureeing food right in the pan. It’s super quiet and has a soft grip handle making it comfortable and easy to use. Love it!

Thanks to everyone at KitchenAid and SeeFood Media for a great event and even greater gift to make my cooking faster, easier and more delicious!

Check out KitchenAid products online

Check out SeeFood Media online

Antique Garage, Soho

6. Antique Garage, Soho

Now if there’s a cool place in Soho, this is it. This eclectic, funky and elegant little place is a gem located in lower Soho on Mercer Street. They specialize in Mediterranean cuisine and have antique furnishings, live music and gorgeous chandeliers to match. Their menu is an infusion of French, Moroccan, Turkish and Ottoman cuisine and they have great small plates (Mezes) such as Hummus and Tzatziki, marinated octopus, fried calamari and eggplant salad if you just want to snack with a glass of wine. I stopped in solely for drinks and had an interesting mint, rum and cucumber concoction that knocked my socks off! Their Grilled Turkish Meatballs are a specialty, and they have other Mediterranean yummies such as Shrimp Casserole and Grilled Veggie Skewers and Pan Seared Tuna. The atmosphere is warm and dimly lit, the music is authentic Turkish (and live!), and the whole gorgeous setting is inside an old garage – they keep the front garage door open so you get a nice breeze and a nice view. Very lovely. Very romantic. A nice place for a dinner date and some great food. I’ll definitely be back for some of those Grilled Turkish Meatballs and fresh made Tzatziki!

Check out Antique Garage online

da Mikele, TriBeCa

7. da Mikele, Tribeca

I stopped in here the other day for a quick lunch at the bar and for the life of me couldn’t decide what to order. Not that that’s a bad thing – just too many damn good choices on the menu! da Mikele is owned by Michele Iuliano, owner of Luzzo’s in the East Village, and Ovest Pizzoteca in Chelsea. Their menu is Neopolitan-inspired and the best thing to try is one of their oven fired pizzas. Old Fashioned Square pizza, Cone Shaped Pizza, Oven baked Neapolitan pizza, homemade Focaccia bread pizza..you name it, they got it. And they got it good. I had one of their “pizzettes” which is a thin crust oblong shaped pizza that was topped with Spicy Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Mozzarella – just enough for lunch and it came with a mixed greens salad. The crust is perfectly cooked, crunchy on the outside and chewy with lots of gooey melted cheese – delicious! They have a nice selection of Antipasti – the Polpette (meatballs in tomato sauce) are really good with a side of crusty bread and their Italian soups are delicious too. I haven’t tried the Pasta dishes yet, but they look amazing (yes, I was eyeing the Pesto Shrimp Risotto on the plate next to me) and are on the list for my next visit (which will be very soon!). Check it out.

275 Church Street, New York NY 10013 | 212.925.8800

Check out da Mikele online

Kelley + Ping, Soho

8. Kelley + Ping, Soho

I stumbled across this cool Asian noodle shop one night when I was strolling through Soho after work and felt like having an appetizer and a drink, and that I did. I sat down at their cozy bar in the front and ordered a Ginger infused Vodka drink that was cool and fresh and spicy, topped with some fresh mint. While I was looking at the menu, the bartender put out these amazingly addictive asian spiced nuts in front of me – in a cute bamboo basket with a cover! I think there were cashews, wasabi peas and some crunchy coated spicy peanuts in there – not sure but I think I ate at least two baskets of these before I actually ordered something off the menu. So I ordered some of the Thai Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce which came with another clear sweet and spicy dressing with peppers in it. Pretty darn good! I’ve only actually eaten here one other time and had the traditional Pad Thai but they have tons of other interesting noodle dishes and Asian dishes including Vietnamese style on the menu that I’d try next time around. Nice atmosphere, good service, and oh, did I mention the asian spiced nuts? It’s worth a visit just for those lovely things and a house infused vodka.

127 Greene St. Soho NY 10012 | 212.228.1212

Check out Kelley + Ping online

The Lot, High Line

9. The Lot, High Line Park NYC

Situated at the base of the entrance of High Line Park at W. 30th St and 10th Ave, The Lot is really just that – a (parking) lot with free events, an outdoor bar, picnic tables and umbrellas all inside a circle of cool food trucks. But these aren’t just any food trucks, we’re talking awesome coffee and ice cream bar Van Leeuwen, Korilla BBQ, The Taco Truck, and an outdoor bar by Colicchio & Sons with craft beers on tap. After some good grub and a beverage, you can hike up the stairs to the gorgeous High Line park situated on an old railroad line that spans from W. 30th Street all the way down to Greenwich Street in the Meatpacking District. If you haven’t checked out this beauty, you must, must do so. Being up so high is a breath of fresh air from being in this crowded city and the views are absolutely amazing to boot. Gardens, sculptures, art, and really cool buildings along the way. When you’re done, stop at The Porch on W. 15th Street for a great sammie and fresh fruit from The Green Table located in Chelsea Market. Oh, and make sure to get an artisan fruit ice pop or shaved ice from People’s Pops on the way out for dessert!

Check out the Lot and the High Line online

Papatzul, Soho

10. Papatzul, Soho

OK. Last but not least. Papatzul. Set in lower Soho on Grand Street, this is one of my new favorite spots. Good Mexican food is sometimes hard to find in New York (at least compared to L.A. or Texas) or you have to go to an overpriced chain for some decent guacamole and enchiladas AND pay an arm and a leg for it. Papatzul is first of all charming with its creative and colorful signage outside. The interior is just as colorful and buzzing with energy when you walk in.

The chips are deliciously homemade and the salsa is super fresh (and no they aren’t free with your meal, but worth the $5 for some of the best authentic salsa you’ll have in NYC). Since I went for lunch, I ordered the Braised Chipotle and Oregano Beef soft Taquitos, topped with Queso Fresco, Chipotle Salsa and Crema – d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s. – and a perfect size for lunch (didn’t even need the chips but they were worth it!)

Papatzul is actually a term used for special food that the Aztecs made for their Spanish conquerors (who they thought were the Gods). Special food you’ll find here indeed, with a menu created by Chef Thierry Amezcua, a native of Coyoacan, a small borough of Mexico City. The atmosphere is fun and lively and the food is fresh, authentic and very special.

55 Grand Street, New York, NY 10013 | 212.274.8225

Check out Papatzul online

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Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad


Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad

Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad

Peaches. There’s something so satisfying about biting into the sweet, juicy flesh that quenches the thirst for a cool and refreshing treat in the summertime.

Peaches

Peaches

Even the perfectly round shape, bright peachy red and fuzzy exterior gives it a heavenly appeal.

Peach Still Life

Peach Still Life

Almost too pretty to eat.

Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad

Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad

This recipe pairs white peaches with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella in a tangy sweet vinaigrette. It’s refreshing and light and the salty prosciutto paired with the cool, mild mozzarella and sweet peaches is a combination to die for. You can also substitute the mozzarella with Ricotta Salata (fresh ricotta) or Feta Cheese, and add some sliced or slivered almonds for crunch if you like. Serve this salad with some crusty bread and a glass of white wine – perfect for a lunch or dinner side salad with an Italian dish.

Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Salad

Ingredients:

1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp honey
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 head leafy green lettuce
2 large white peaches, sliced into wedges
½ red onion, sliced paper thin
3-4 slices prosciutto, sliced thin and torn into pieces
3 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded into pieces

Dressing:

Combine lemon juice, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper, stirring with a whisk. Gradually drizzle in olive oil, stirring constantly, until vinaigrette is mixed thoroughly and doesn’t separate.

Salad: 

Combine lettuce and peach wedges in a large bowl, drizzle with dressing and toss to coat.

Arrange salad on serving dish or in individual bowls and top with prosciutto, red onion and mozzarella cheese. Top with freshly cracked black pepper.

Serve with crusty bread and a glass of white wine (Reisling or Chardonnay pairs well).

Serves 4.

Lovely Peaches

Lovely Peaches

Other Peach Recipes you may enjoy:

Grilled Chicken and Peach Salad

Oprah’s Summer Peach Salad

Paula Deen’s Grilled Peach Salad

Roasted Beet, Peach and Goat Cheese Salad

Sweet & Simple: Black Cherry Clafoutis


Cherry Clafouti

Black Cherry Clafoutis

The other day I suddenly had a strong craving for dessert. Most likely this was result of my having eyed some gorgeous black cherries on the sidewalk at Todaro Brothers, my favorite local market down the street. I suddenly remembered a simple, delicious French dessert called Clafoutis that I learned how to make in cooking school, and decided this would be the perfect dish to satisfy my sweet tooth and take advantage of the delectable fresh cherries that were calling my name.

Cherries

Gorgeous Cherries

Clafoutis is a dessert originating in 19th century from the Limousin region of France. The name stems the verb clafir, which literally means “to fill” – (the fresh black cherries with a custard like batter). The dish calls for slivered almonds and butter along with a hint of almond and vanilla flavors, covered in a custard-like batter and baked. It is finished with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and served lukewarm. Clafoutis is also made with apples, plums, pears, blackberries or raspberries, and is even better with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or ice cream – the perfect remedy for a hot summer day.

Cherries

Cherries ready for pitting

The traditional way of making Clafoutis is to leave the pits in the cherries which give a more intense cherry flavor to the dish, but you can also choose to pit them before baking, giving it a milder cherry flavor and making it easier to dig in and enjoy this delicious creation. Either way it’s sweet and simple to make, so follow your heart’s desire. One bite, and you’ll be in love. Savourer!

Cherries and Almonds in Buttered Dish

Cherries and Almonds in Buttered Dish

Cherry Clafouti

Pouring the Custard Batter over Cherries

Ingredients

1 c fresh black cherries, pitted (or unpitted if you prefer)
1 tbsp slivered almonds
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 c all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/2 c whole milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (for dusting once baked)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a medium size oven proof casserole or skillet and toss in almonds and cherries.

Whisk together eggs, sugar and brown sugar, salt and flour; mix together. Slowly whisk in the milk, almond and vanilla flavoring until you have a smooth custard-like batter and pour over the cherries into the baking dish.

Bake for 45 mins to an hour until the Clafoutis is lightly browned (you can test the doneness with a toothpick in the center – it is done if it comes out clean). Let cool to room temperature, then dust with powdered sugar and slice into wedges (or rectangular slices if made in a square or rectangular baking dish). Serve with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4. If baking for a larger crowd, double the recipe and bake in a large 9×9 or 10×7 baking dish – this will serve 6-8 people.

Clafouti with Powdered Sugar

Sweet.

Simple.

Simple.

Cherry Clafouti

and Oh So French.

Other Clafoutis recipes you may enjoy:

Dave Lieberman’s Blueberry Clafouti

Michael Chiarello’s Apple Clafouti

Julia Child’s Plum Clafouti (via Gratinee)

Ina Garten’s Pear Clafouti

Jamie Oliver’s Chocolate Clafoutis with Caramelized Oranges

Crunchy and Luscious: Chicken Mushroom Croquettes



Chicken and Mushroom Croquettes

Chicken Mushroom Croquettes

Croquettes are delicious small fried food rolls – crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. They are usually filled with mashed potatoes or minced meat such as beef or veal, poultry, fish, vegetables or shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp and salmon are common). The ingredients are mixed together with fresh herbs and spices and oftentimes a creamy white sauce, then shaped into cylindrical patties, coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried (or you can bake these in the oven if you prefer).

Originating in France, the word croquette means “to crunch”. Perfect for a cocktail party appetizer or just a luscious small dish, served with a salad and a glass of crisp white wine. Serve with a remoulade dipping sauce and a splash of lemon.

Croquettes

1 1/3 c chicken, finely shredded (white meat)
2/3 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (cremini and/or white button)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp celery salt
dash of cayenne
dash of nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c canola oil, for frying

Herb Cream Sauce

1/4 c butter
1/2 c flour
1 c. chicken stock
1/3 c cream
1/2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp thyme, finely chopped

Remoulade Sauce

2 c mayonnaise
2 tbsp chopped capers
1 ½ tbsp chopped chives
1 ½ tbsp. chopped tarragon
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped chipotle pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste

To prepare remoulade: In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, capers, chives, tarragon, parsley, chipotle pepper, and Dijon mustard. Add Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and lemon juice to taste. Cover and chill until ready to use.

To make the croquettes, first shred and chop the warm, cooked chicken (a rotisserie chicken is a fast and easy way to do this or you can use shredded parboiled chicken). Finely chop the mushrooms and mix in salt, celery salt, cayenne and nutmeg, mixing all ingredients together.

Make the herb cream sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and slowly adding flour, chicken stock, herbs and cream together, whisking thoroughly and often until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Add the sauce to the chicken and mushroom mixture, then add one beaten egg until it has a moist but firm texture; set aside to cool. Shape into cylindrical patties and coat with breadcrumbs. Place croquettes in a frying pan in heated oil over medium high and fry until the croquettes have a crispy, golden brown crust, about 5-6 minutes, and drain on paper towels.

Serve with a side salad of mixed greens with lemon juice and olive oil dressing, a crisp white wine and remoulade sauce for dipping.

Makes 4  servings.

 

Other Croquette recipes you may enjoy:

Paula Deen’s Potato Croquettes

Alton Brown’s Tuna Croquettes

Anthony Bourdain’s Dutch Croquettes

Japanese Beef and Potato Croquettes (Korokke)

Saveur’s Salmon Croquettes

Indochine Kitchen’s Croquettes

Food On Fire! IACP Conference 2011 Austin TX


Sparks of Culinary Creativity & Inspiration!

IACP Conference 2011 Austin TX

IACP Conference 2011 Austin TX

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A SLIDESHOW OF PHOTOS FROM THE AUSTIN TRIP!

So I finally had a chance to come back down from cloud nine and get back to reality after an awesome week-long conference in Austin, Texas with the International Association of Culinary Professionals. What an incredible time spent with amazing and talented professionals in the food industry! If you haven’t been to Austin before, its a must see foodie destination, full of Texas Barbecue and Food Trailers (not trucks like we have in NYC), and the perfect spot to host this year’s conference with a focus on Culinary Excellence and Innovation. I spent five incredible days meeting other food writers, chefs, cookbook authors, food bloggers, food stylists and photographers, agents and publishers – and was creatively inspired by all the incredible speakers and new foodie friends I met!

Kristen, Rachel and Marie on 6th St

Kristen, Rachel and Marie on 6th St

I flew in on Tuesday night with Rachel (The Fabulous Foodie) and Marie (Food Nouveau) and after arriving at the Hilton Austin, we decided to hit the infamous Sixth Street to try out a few of the hot spots in town. We made a new friend with a bartender who bought pickles to make us Pickleback shots with Jameson and Pickle Juice (per Rachel’s artful persuasion – don’t ask) which clued me in to what was ahead for the next five days in this town!

Day 1 Conference

Migas - Juan in a Million

Migas - Juan in a Million

We had a few hours before the conference started on Wednesday so Rachel, Marie, Nikki and I went to grab breakfast at the infamous Juan in a Million restaurant. We ordered some delicious Migas – platters made with scrambled eggs, potatoes, onions and tomatoes with tortillas and fresh salsa and guacamole,

fajita salad

fajita salad

a delicious Chicken Fajita Salad with Jalapenos and Guacamole..

Kristen and Juan

Kristen and Juan

and had the opportunity to meet Juan himself who was more than willing to get a snapshot with us!

My first session, DIY Video Production for Food Bloggers, was hosted by Daniel Klein of The Perennial Palate, John Mitzewich of Food Wishes, and Sara O’Donnell of Average Betty. We learned video production techniques, equipment and editing tips and saw samples of all the incredible video work that these video bloggers have produced as they told us how they got started and secrets of the trade.

Next we went to the IACP New Member Orientation, led by IACP Board Members including Author Kathleen Flinn and Lia Huber of NourishNetwork.com who gave us tips on how to get the most out of the conference and networking.

Texas Armadillo

Texas Armadillo

We headed over to the Host City Opening Reception at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum where we were greeted by cowboys and armadillos and cows, and sampled delicious Tex Mex food and cocktails from some of Austin’s finest restaurants in town.

IACP Opening Reception

IACP Opening Reception

I hung out with new, fun friends: Liz Burkhart of Whole Foods, Amy McCoy of PoorGirl Gourmet, Dave Dadekian and Jolene Bochon of Delish.com – good times!

Kristen - East Side Showroom

Kristen - East Side Showroom

Of course I couldn’t pass up the Late Night Club Crawl, where a small group of us went to East Sixth Street (led by Wendy Brannen of Vidalia Onion Committee and some other local Austonians who knew the hotspots!) – East Sixth Street is Austin’s funky part of town with groovy lounges, food trailer parks and low key outside bars.

Shangri La

Shangri La

East Side Showroom

East Side Showroom

We hit Shangri la, East Side Showroom, a cool live music and art gourmet bar,

Korean Fried Chicken Bites - Liberty Trailer Park

Korean Fried Chicken Bites - Liberty Trailer Park

and ended up at Liberty for some late night grub in a trailer park, munching on crispy Korean Chicken bites and Tempura Fried Beets. Weird? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely!

Tempura Fried Beets

Tempura Fried Beets

Day 2 Conference

The next day was full on with amazing sessions by Shauna Ahern, Gluten Free Girl, who led the Blog to Book breakout session focused on in-depth discussions with other talented food bloggers and food writers such as Marge Perry and Dixie Caviar, from around the country as we shared our goals and tips for success in the blogosphere.

IronWorks BBQ

IronWorks BBQ

We went on a search for some BBQ and ended up at The Ironworks Barbecue,

IronWorks BBQ - Beef Brisket, Ribs and Sausage

IronWorks BBQ - Beef Brisket, Ribs and Sausage

where we loaded up on plates of fat, juicy Ribs, Beef Brisket, Sausage, Beans and Pickles washed down with huge Iced Teas to quench our thirst in the midst of the heatwave!

Ellie Krieger

Ellie Krieger

After lunch we saw a live demo with Ellie Krieger and Joan Auritt who showed us How to Cook on Camera with poise and confidence, and if anyone has those two qualities, Ellie does!

My last session of the day was on Networking – run by Mark Bitterman, Author of Salted and professional Selmier. In the session I had the pleasure of meeting Dianne Jacob, author and food writer, Tara Wilson, Event Planner and owner of Savvy Southerner, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, and Jessica Merchant of How Sweet It Is. Great conversation, great networking tips and great people to get to know!

The Driskill Hotel

The Driskill Hotel

The evening ended with an Awards Gala and Ceremony at the beautiful historic Driskill Hotel and Paramount Theatre, where some of the most accomplished food writers, editors, photographers, stylists, cookbook authors, chefs and food personalities were accoladed and awarded for their culinary excellence.

Kristen, Jessica, Marie and Rachel

Kristen, Jessica, Marie and Rachel

Marie, Nikki and Nader at the Awards Ceremony

Marie, Nikki and Nader at the Awards Ceremony

The ceremony was a classy affair, with classic cocktails and scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, prepared by Executive Chef Jonathan Gelman and award-winning Executive Pastry Chef Tony Sansalone.

Shrimp Creole - Annie's

Shrimp Creole - Annie

My friends and I headed out for drinks and dinner afterwards to Annie’s Cafe & Bar for a delicious meal of Shrimp Creole, Watermelon Blush Martinis and Sauteed Spinach and Garlic. After all the festivities I still mustered up enough energy to attend the Food Styling session by master Denise Vivaldo – who is super talented and hilarious — perfect ending to a perfect evening!

Day 3 Conference

Penny De Los Santos and Kim Severson

Penny De Los Santos and Kim Severson

The next day was jam packed with superstar talent speaking about Crafting a Great Story led by Penny De Los Santos, Daniel Klein and Kim Severson from the NY Times. Penny is an amazing photographer and told us heartwarming stories about her trip to Mexico on her last photoshoot for Saveur Magazine with food writer Molly O’Neill – true passion and talent that shined straight through in her storytelling! Daniel showed us more of his fun food adventure videos and Kim Severson led the panel with wit and charm – she is the funniest person known to man!

Cacao Rouge

Cacao Rouge

The Culinary Expo and Culinary Book Fair was incredible – food artisans, vendors and gourmet products were on display including some amazing French Chocolate

Yummy Appetizers

Yummy Appetizers

..and tons of food samples to accompany our delicious Tex Mex lunch!

Dorie Greenspan

Dorie Greenspan

I met Dorie Greenspan outside at the Culinapp Trailer and got some amazing cookies and checked out the cool new iPad app she is featured in. I also bought two cookbooks at the Cookbook Fair – Fried Chicken and Champagne by Lisa Dupar (winner of the Cookbook Award!) and Good Food to Share by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan of thekitchn.com (whom I both met at dinner that very same night..how cool is that?!)

Jacques Pepin and Amanda Hesser

Jacques Pepin and Amanda Hesser

Kristen with Chef Jacques Pepin

Kristen with Chef Jacques Pepin

One of my favorite sessions was a French Cooking Demonstration with Jacques Pepin and Amanda Hesser – Jacques made some of his delicious recipes – Mini Savory Cheesecakes, Chicken Supremes with Tapenade and Mushroom Sauce, and Asparagus with Chorizo and Croutons, as Amanda interviewed him about his life as a celebrity chef. Talk about a treat!

Chicken Supremes and Chorizo Asparagus

Chicken Supremes and Chorizo Asparagus

After the demo, I was able to meet him and sample more of his goodies up front afterwards which was an eventful part of the conference and a true honor to meet such a culinary legend as Jacques.

We ended the day in our Committee Breakout Meetings and I joined the IACP Food Styling and Photographers group for some inspiring ideas for our group and networking amongst talented peeps such as Jamie Tiampo, Derek Richmond, Nader Khouri and LeeAnn Wright.

Friday night I went to an amazing dinner at Fonda San Miguel, a longtime favorite Mexican restaurant in a gorgeous neo-Colonial building

Fonda San Miguel

Fonda San Miguel

Herb Garden at Fonda San Miguel

Herb Garden at Fonda San Miguel

with a backyard herb and vegetable garden full of corn stalks, lavender, cilantro, parsley and more.

Fonda San Miguel Exterior

Fonda San Miguel Exterior

Fonda San Miguel

Fonda San Miguel

The establishment was vibrant with color, charm and character – wood carved doorways and Mexican folk art on the walls,

Carne Asadas

Carne Asadas

and the food was outstanding – Zucchini Gazpacho Soup, Mini Shredded Beef Tacos , Carne Asadas with Black Beans and an Enchilada Mole.

Caramel Flan

Caramel Flan

Of course there were plenty of Mango Margaritas floating around to accompany homemade chips and fresh salsa, and a mesmerizing caramel Flan for dessert!

Day 4 Conference

Dorie Greenspan

Dorie Greenspan

Our last day of the conference was studded with food stars – I watched Dorie Greenspan talk about her new digital cookbook on the newly launching Culinapp along with Lorena Jones of Chronicle Books and Rux Martin of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I couldn’t pass up Dorie’s cookies on the way out!

Kalyn Denny, Lisa Stone and Elise Bauer

Kalyn Denny, Lisa Stone and Elise Bauer

Next up on the line up was the dynamic trio of Food Bloggers: Kalyn Denny of Kalyn’s Kitchen, Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes and Lisa Stone of BlogHer.com discussing the ins and outs of food blogging, offering sage advice to the audience.

WhiteonRice Photo

WhiteonRice Photo

Last but not least, and one of my favorite sessions was on Light and Photography with White on Rice couple Todd and Diane Cru – I was truly inspired by their beautiful and simple photography, their sheer talent, passion for their work and amazing presentation and offering of advice.

Boggy Creek Farm BBQ

Boggy Creek Farm BBQ

Pepper Rubbed Beef Brisket

Pepper Rubbed Beef Brisket

The party we were all waiting for was the Up in Smoke BBQ at Boggy Creek Farm – talk about crazy fun! A full on BBQ bash was awaiting us with Ribs, Brisket, Smoked Pig, and all the dressings: corn, beans, cole slaw, german potato salad and some fine Handmade Texas Vodka cocktails..

Backyard BBQ

Backyard BBQ

..as we sat outside listening to jamboree musicians on the big white southern back porch of the farmhouse.. Nothing better than this!

Liberty

Liberty

On our last night out, Rachel, Marie, Dave and I went out on East Sixth Street (again!) and hung out at Liberty –

Food Trailer at Liberty

Food Trailer at Liberty

a groovy dive bar with an awesome dirt patio in back with a food trailer, picnic benches and amazing food (same place we got the Korean Chicken Bites and Tempura Fried Beets).

Flaming Dr Pepper Shots

Flaming Dr Pepper Shots

We eventually moved on back to main Sixth Street to find some Flaming Dr. Pepper shots (aren’t those illegal now? The last time I had one of these was in college in Upstate NY!) and hit the pizza truck on the way home. Definitely a colorful street and colorful crowd – now I know where they got the saying “Keep Austin Weird!”

Heading back home to NYC

Gueros Taco Bar - SoCo

Gueros Taco Bar - SoCo

After four full days of talking and eating and networking and eating and talking and drinking – I had to get one last Mexican meal in. Rachel and I headed to SoCo (South Congress) to visit the legendary Guero’s Taco Bar.

Gueros Making Tortillas

Gueros Making Tortillas

The tortillas were handmade and grilled in front of our eyes as we watched with anticipation..

Gueros Tacos and Beans and Rice

Gueros Tacos and Beans and Rice

We noshed on Chips and Guacamole and Salsa, a few Pulled spicy pork and chicken tacos with beans and rice, and some Iced Tea to diminish the slight hangover from the Flaming Dr. Pepper shots the night before! (Not my idea, thanks)

Indian Food Tent

Indian Food Tent

My head is still spinning from all the sights and sounds, amazing food and amazing people I met, and I have to say that my trip to Austin will stay close to my heart forever. The new friends and talented culinary professionals I met have inspired me to do my best work, to follow my heart, to pursue my dream of a food writing and photography career – and I thank all those I shared it with for making this an incredible event I will never forget. Can’t wait for next year’s event in New York City – see you all then.

Austin Mural

Austin Mural

Austin – I LOVE YOU! Stay Weird.

Albondigas en Salsa de Chipolte (Cheese stuffed Spanish Meatballs)


Spanish Meatballs

Albondigas en Salsa de Chipolte (Spanish Meatballs)

These Spanish-style meatballs are a delicious little treat: sweet, smoky and spicy and lavished in a luscious tomato sauce, they are sure to be a hit at your next Tapas or Cocktail party. You can serve them with some stuffed olives and rustic bread for dipping or over pasta or polenta for a full on hearty meal. Ole!

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. coarse ground salt
1/2 tsp. coarse ground pepper
1/3 c. fine dry breadcrumbs
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/4 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
9 (3/4-in.) cubes queso fresco
2 Tbsp. lard or canola (or other vegetable) oil
1 c. finely chopped white onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1 lb.) can whole peeled tomatoes,
undrained, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. beef stock or broth
2 to 4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
Sliced Chiles and Parmesan cheese, grated for garnish
9 whole pimento-stuffed green olives, for serving
Rustic Bread, for serving

Beat eggs with salt in large bowl. Stir in breadcrumbs; let stand 5 mins. Add beef, pork and cilantro, salt and pepper, cumin and smoked paprika; mix lightly but thoroughly. Divide meat mixture into 18 even portions. Shape 1 portion into flat patty; top with 1 cheese cube. Press meat firmly around cheese to enclose completely and form balls.

Heat lard or oil in deep 10-in. skillet over medium high heat until hot. Fry 1/2 of meatballs at a time, turning occasionally, until brown on every side, about 5 mins.; remove to plate. Remove and discard all but 3 Tbsp. drippings from skillet. Add onion and garlic; saute over med. heat until soft, about 4 mins.

Stir in tomatoes, stock and chiles; heat to boiling. Return meatballs to skillet; reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, until meatballs are cooked through, about 45 mins. Remove meatballs to serving dish with slotted spoon; keep warm.

Transfer tomato mixture to blender container; process until smooth. Return mixture to skillet; heat over high heat to boiling. Pour sauce over and around meatballs.

Garnish with chiles and cilantro or parsley and parmesan cheese. Serve with stuffed olives and rustic bread for dipping or over pasta or polenta for a heartier entree.

Serves 8.

Meet the Chef: An interview with Chef Andrew Whitney, dell’anima


Watch the video of a behind the scenes interview with myself and Andrew Whitney, Chef de Cuisine at dell’anima, a charming and popular Italian trattoria located in Greenwich Village, NYC, as he talks about his culinary background and shows how to prep his signature dish, “Chicken Diablo”.

dell’anima, meaning “of the soul” in Italian, is an upscale, intimate Italian restaurant opened by Gabe Thompson of Del Posto, and Joe Campanale of Babbo in 2007. The open kitchen is a cool feature of the space, set right behind the bar and dining room with full view of their Chefs cooking in action. The artwork and photography on the walls is created by Partner and Photographer Jamie Tiampo.

The menu is elegant and hearty, featuring a variety of unique Italian pasta dishes and grilled vegetables, a bruschetta bar, antipasti and salads, seafood, chicken and steak dishes and a offers a robust Italian wine selection. Having gained status as 3 Star Certified Green Restaurant ®, dell’anima uses mainly local and sustainable ingredients and buys from local food producers.

Rustic dishes with a Tuscan influence are the focus of their cuisine. Most entrees, pastas and salads are infused or served with fresh grilled vegetables, herbs and spices in unique combinations to stir up the palate. Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu, Sweetbreads with sunchoke puree, rhubarb and scallion, and Charred Octopus with rice beans, chorizo and chicories are just a few of their unique dishes that set them apart from the traditional Italian places in New York. Always delicious and standard fine cuisine prices for New York standards at $16-30 for pasta and entrees, $10-18 for antipasti and bruschette for $5-15.

View the Menu

dell’anima restaurant
38 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10014
212.366.6633
www.dellanima.com 

On the Menu: Cooking with Fresh Seasonal Ingredients


Scallops and Asparagus

Scallops and Asparagus

Spring has arrived! It’s my favorite time of year when everything comes alive…flowers are blooming, streets are buzzing, the sun is shining, and the freshest fruits and vegetables are available at the local markets. Asparagus, Strawberries, Avocados – three lovely, seasonal ingredients perfect for a light and refreshing Spring menu. The salad has marinated strawberries in a Strawberry Balsamic Viniagrette, which gives them a sweet, tangy flavor – a perfect complement to the crunchy toasted almonds, bacon and avocado in this delicious spring salad. The Scallops are pan-seared in a roasted garlic chardonnay marinade with a splash of lemon, served with a side of sautéed fresh asparagus. Enjoy!

Pan Seared Scallops with Garlic and Lemon and Sauteed Asparagus

Ingredients

16 Large Sea Scallops
¼ c. Roasted Garlic Chardonnay Marinade (Tavern on the Green)
2 tbsp EVOO
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Lemon Pepper (Trader Joe’s)
1-2 Green Onions, sliced
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Kosher Salt to taste

Preparation

In a plastic freezer bag, place scallops and ¼ c. marinade and lemon pepper, coat scallops well. Marinade in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Prepped ingredients

Prepped ingredients

Chop the green onions and parsley and reserve for topping the scallops.

Asparagus

Asparagus

Cut off the ends of the asparagus (tough parts of the stem), rinse and pat dry. In a pre-heated sauté pan over medium-high, sauté the Asparagus in a tablespoon of olive oil with a splash of lemon juice and lemon pepper for about 5-6 minutes until cooked through.

After scallops are done marinating, take them out of the bag and dry off with paper towels. Place them in the same sauté pan, adding remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt and lemon pepper.

Pan-seared Scallops

Pan-seared Scallops

Sear the scallops for approx. 2-3 minutes per side until browned and cooked through. Sprinkle scallops with some fresh lemon juice and remove from pan.

Place asparagus and scallops on a plate and garnish with chopped green onions, parsley and a lemon wedge.

Serves 4.

Strawberry, Bacon and Avocado Salad

Strawberry, Bacon and Avocado Salad

Strawberry, Bacon and Avocado Salad with Toasted Marcona Almonds

Ingredients

1 lb of mixed lettuce
1 pint of fresh strawberries, sliced
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 ripe avocado, sliced
½ cup of Rosemary Marcona almonds, toasted (Trader Joe’s)
3 green onions, sliced thin
3 tbsp of EVOO
3 tbsp of Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar (Tavern on the Green)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Preparation

Slice the strawberries into thin slices and place in a sealable plastic bag with the 2 tbsp Strawberry Balsamic vinegar in the refrigerator, let marinade for about an hour.

Prepare salad dressing, mix olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and mustard together, slowly whisking in oil until it is mixed well and set aside.

Fry bacon in a pan until cooked well and drain on paper towels. Let bacon cool and crumble for salad topping. Set aside.

Rosemary Marcona Almonds and Green Onions

Rosemary Marcona Almonds and Green Onions

Place almonds in a separate pre-heated medium-sized pan with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle kosher salt over the nuts. Cook and stir for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown and toasty.

Slice the avocados and green onions.

In a large salad bowl, toss the lettuce and vinaigrette together, mixing well, and top salad greens with the marinated strawberries and sliced avocados.

Garnish the salad with crumbled bacon, green onions, toasted almonds, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.

Going Bohemian at The French Spirits Soiree


Watch the video of Kristen with eDiningNews.com covering the festivities at The French Spirits Soiree at the Astor Center, a fun and lively cocktail event held by The Dizzy Fizz.

The French Spirit Soiree

With over 300 guests at the event, we experienced the hedonistic era of turn of the 20th century France, filming and interviewing the guests and spirits vendors, all the while sampling delightful Belle Epoque-themed cocktails, punches, absinthe and spirits in this surreal Parisian bohemian environment. The event featured live vintage jazz music, street artists, painted clowns and a risqué burlesque dancer – all reminiscent of the romantic, glamorous lifestyle of the Parisian art nouveau era. There were plenty of noshes to go with our French Spirits with cheese trays from Murray’s Cheese and rustic bread by scratchBREAD.

A special nod to all of the spirits sponsors that made the night complete: Lillet, Tariquet Armagnac, Pernod Absinthe, Ricard Pastis, Benedictine, Cointreau®, Rémy Martin 1738® , Noilly Prat, G’Vine Gin, June Liqueur, Bonal, Dolin, and St-GermainÀ votre santé!

French Spirits Soiree photos

Photos by John Walder & Gabi Porter

Here are some drink recipes from the event (and for more of them check out SpiritsSoiree.com)

La Vie en Rose
1 oz. Ricard
½ oz. simple syrup
4 raspberries
G.H. Mumm Champagne
Muddle raspberries with syrup. Add Ricard, and shake with ice to chill. Strain into a Champagne flute, and top with Champagne.

Cointreau® Basil Lemonade
2 oz. Cointreau®
5 basil leaves muddled
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
2 oz. soda water
Muddled basil with fresh lemon juice, add Cointreau®, shake and strain over fresh ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with leaf of basil.

The St-Germain Cocktail
2 parts Brut Champagne or Dry Sparkling Wine
1.5 parts St-Germain
2 parts club soda
Add Brut Champagne, then St-Germain then club soda to an ice filled Collins glass and stir until completely mixed. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Avant
2 oz. G’Vine Floraison Gin
.25 oz. L’Esprit de June
.5 oz. lemon juice
5 green grapes
3 oz. tonic
Muddle grapes and basil. Add all but tonic and shake. Strain over ice in a tall glass. Add tonic and stir. Garnish with a basil leaf and grapes.

French Spirits Soiree at Astor Center

Photos by Kristen Hess

See more photos from the event by Gabi Porter on Metromix, and by John Walder on Facebook.com/TheDizzyFizz.

Ecco La Cucina: An Interview with Tuscan Chef Gina Stipo


Gina Stipo at Ecco la Cucina, Tuscany

Gina Stipo at Ecco la Cucina, Tuscany

I recently took a Tuscan cooking class with Chef Gina Stipo at ICE in New York, and immediately fell in love with her rustic Tuscan recipes, her passionate, hands-on teaching approach and cooking philosophy; centered around fresh, seasonal produce and local ingredients from Tuscany. We learned the basics of Tuscan cooking, local ingredients, cheeses and wines, and a little bit about Gina’s culinary training. She explained Italian culture and ways of cooking, and we made some really delicious food which we thoroughly enjoyed at the end of the evening.

Pecorino Flan, Kristen making Gnocchi, Artichokes and Lemon

Pecorino Flan, Kristen making Gnocchi, Artichokes and Lemon

For starters, we made a savory Pecorino Flan, served with roasted pears and arugula and paired with a crisp, white Tuscan wine to complement the tangy cheese. We made fresh homemade potato gnocchi from scratch, along with two savory, simple cream sauces – one with fresh crumbled gorgonzola, onion and sage, another with walnuts, butter and parmesan.

For the Roasted Chicken dish, Gina demonstrated the ‘Tuscan’ way of cutting up a whole chicken (with a large pair of kitchen shears), then she threw it gently into a roasting pan along with our fresh trimmed artichokes, lemons, garlic, rosemary and sage and put it in the oven for awhile until it was crispy and browned. For dessert, we savored a light and fruity Strawberry Semifreddo drizzled with melted dark chocolate – straight from the heavens above!

Gina's Cooking Class, Ecco la Cucina Cookbook

Ginas Cooking Class, Ecco la Cucina Cookbook

In my interview with Gina, she discusses her culinary training and background and cookbook Ecco La Cucina, (“Here’s the Kitchen”). Having lived and trained in Italy, Gina specializes in Italian cuisine primarily from the Tuscany region. She also does personalized food and wine tours in Tuscany and around Italy, and offers hands-on cooking classes held on the rural estate of Spannocchia, south of Siena, focusing on Tuscan cuisine and wines. Gina is truly passionate about her work and has found her place in the culinary world. She’s truly an inspiration, and a talented Chef and cooking instructor… Read my personal interview with Gina below to find out more about her culinary training and career, cooking philosophy, her cookbook and a few of the recipes from our class.

Can you tell me a little bit about your culinary and professional career background?

I feel as if my life has always been food focused, I have so many early memories of different foods I loved.  Growing up in an Italian family, meals were very important.  We celebrated with food, we made special trips to buy the right ingredients, and we ate together as a family.  When I was six years old we moved to Italy for four years and the beauty of the country, the food that is such an integral part of their lives, made an indelible mark on me that formed a basis for the way I relate to both the beauty of my surroundings and food. I have been studying food all my life but made a career change when I was in my late 30’s to focus on food professionally.  I came into a little money and I used it all to go travel in Italy and study their cuisine.

When did you realize you wanted to be a professional chef and cooking instructor? Who inspired you most as a young cook? What did you learn from them?

For a long time as a young adult my dream was to live in New York City and go to culinary school but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  I lived that dream when I was in my late 30’s and then worked in restaurants for several years to gain experience, but I still hadn’t found my niche.  In 2000, some friends who own an estate in Tuscany asked me if I would come and do some classes for their guests.  I set up cooking classes and found that I’m really good at it, that my innate curiosity and constant study of the subject before I went to culinary school had given me a lot of information that people are interested in.

My mother inspired me as a young cook, she has a curious nature and was always buying strange things in the market and figuring out how to cook them or eat them.  The Italian food of my father’s family inspired me.  From my mother I learned curiosity and openness, from my grandmother and aunts I learned the importance of freshness and respecting your ingredients.

Can you tell us about your training at the Institute of Culinary Education as well as abroad in Italy? How were you trained and what was that like? What was your first job as a professional cook and what was that like?

I loved going to ICE, spending every day surrounded by food and talking about it; I got extra bonus points on tests, joyously studied and constantly felt thrilled to be learning and surrounded by people interested in food.  I learned that I love the technique and precision of beautiful desserts and enjoy making them perfectly.

I also trained in Italy, at a school in Bologna as well as by talking to little old people and home cooks about their food and cooking with them in the kitchen.  It’s important to have an open mind and realize that, no matter what you’ve studied or for how long, you don’t know it all, there’s always something new to learn.

How did you get started doing food and wine tours in Italy and can you tell us a little bit more about that?

After I started doing classes for the estate in Tuscany I hit upon the idea of doing a tour for their guests and taking them around the area to great restaurants and wineries, sharing with them the intricacies of the regional foods.  That grew a little every year.  Meanwhile I did single day classes for people who come to Tuscany.  In 2005 my sister came to work with me and is my partner in the States, coordinating the weeklong tours and coming to Italy when we have a group.

Can you tell us a little bit about your cooking style and what makes your cookbook and cooking classes unique?

I would say what sets my cooking apart is knowledge and respect for the ingredients, for the way the dishes developed and evolved.  My cooking style is simple, I don’t believe in making it complicated or scaring people away from food; I want them to have the same acceptance and understanding of the importance of it as an integral part of their lives.  While I enjoy entertaining with stories, my focus is on education, not on reinventing the wheel or making a dish so complicated it takes the joy out of cooking.

Tell us about your cookbook Ecco La Cucina, and what inspired you to write this?

My cookbook is a simple compilation of the recipes we use in my area of Tuscany and was put together by the requests of many of my students.  I put a spiral binder on the first several printings because i want people to be able to use it in the kitchen, not fight with it to get it to stay on the page.  It’s all about making it friendly and comfortable, like Italian cooking should be.

In your opinion, what are the most important elements when creating a recipe from scratch?

There are two questions there:  a recipe from scratch or a dish from scratch.  I do both.

When I went to Italy I worked with an Italian woman who was the cook on the estate.  The owners wanted someone to write down her recipes in English because they had so many requests from their guests.  It hadn’t been done before because she didn’t use recipes, she just cooked.  I worked with her for two months and watched her and learned a lot and wrote the recipes down into a saleable cookbook for the estate.  That exercise helped tremendously when I moved to Italy and traveled around learning about the cuisine and how the dishes were made and allowed me to write my own cookbook years later.

When making a dish from scratch it’s most important to understand the science of cooking; the why and how to make a dish taste good.  There are certain basics in cooking and if you understand those you can create authentic dishes.   But those basics can be different depending on the cuisine.  Indian food is put together differently than Chinese, which is different than French.  The fun thing is learning all of that and making great authentic food!

What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe?

There is my grandmother’s special baked lobster that’s a family favorite and has become my signature dish among friends.  You have to have the courage to kill the lobster and it’s stuffed with bread crumbs, herbs, garlic and drizzled with olive oil, baked and then served on top of thin spaghetti.  It’s fabulous!

What is your favorite spice to cook with and why?

I just did a series of classes on spices used in Italian cooking .  I am crazy about salt and talk a lot about the importance of using unprocessed sea salt, but I don’t think I have one particular spice I like to cook with.  I’m against the constant use of black pepper in absolutely everything without thinking of whether it adds anything good to the dish or whether you even like it.  I love making Indian food for all the wonderful spices there are and adore the smell of cloves, but really in Tuscan cooking we use more herbs than anything because they were free for the peasants, whereas spices cost a lot of money.

What is the most underrated ingredient in your opinion?

Freshness and the seasonality of food.  When you get a vegetable or fruit that is grown in season and is allowed to ripen before picking, there really isn’t much else you have to do to it but eat it.  And by using seasonal ingredients that are local and fresh your dish is elevated before you even begin.

As a professional chef, what was your funniest kitchen incident?

My first job as a professional was in a very hot, very small kitchen at an excellent French bistro in Atlanta.  I was garde manger until I got promoted to the grill.  The first day I was there it was 95 degrees outside and too hot in the kitchen for chef coats so we all wore our favorite t-shirts and ball caps.  After 10 minutes sweat was already trickling down my back and stomach so when the owner asked me if I thought they should turn on the air conditioning in the kitchen, I answered YES!  Everyone laughed because it was a joke they always played on new crew: there wasn’t any air conditioning in the kitchen and, to make it worse, if you kept the kitchen doors open it pulled the air conditioning from the dining room and the guests would be too hot.  I loved how tough you had to be to make it through your shift and the camaraderie you have with the other cooks, like surviving under fire.

When cooking at home, what do you like to prepare for yourself?

Sometimes I like to make complicated braised dishes that take all day, but when I’m hungry I’ll make myself a big fresh chopped salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, blue cheese and grapes.  Or cook up a batch of fried chicken or rabbit.  But I’ve been known to make dinner a bottle of red wine and a bowl of buttered popcorn!

What is your favorite cooking gadget or kitchen item you can’t live without and why?

I really love a decent rubber spatula and a microplane, but I tend to travel with my own special paring knives.

What 5 cookbooks would you recommend every home cook own?

That’s hard because I’m not a big fan of cookbooks, I prefer to read food history or food science.  But the Joy of Cooking is a go-to book in my kitchen for all those traditional recipes that no one knows by heart, plus the original Betty Crocker book from my childhood is great for straightforward American desserts and a bit of nostalgia.   The Greens cookbook from The Greens Restaurant in San Francisco is my all-time favorite book, it’s all vegetarian cooking and every recipe in there is amazing, yet simple.  The Essentials of Italian Cuisine by Marcella Hazan is also an excellent reference book.  My new favorite is by an Italian, Giorgio Locatelli who owns a restaurant in London; his book “Made in Italy” is a wonderful read and a great learning tool

Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs and home cooks?

For aspiring chefs:  respect your ingredients and spend time learning in depth a cuisine rather than trying to reinvent something you don’t understand.

For home cooks:  Don’t be afraid and don’t let them confuse you with complications.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

I’ve really enjoyed living in Italy, studying the foods of the regions and getting to know the people who make the food and preserve the roots of their cuisine.  I love being able to share that with visitors and help them to better understand Italy, to build memories and enjoy their vacation.

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

2 lbs red skinned potatoes
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
Salt

Preparation

Bring potatoes to a boil in salted water until cooked through, being careful not to cook too much or they become water logged. A fork should enter easily with no hard center. Peel and then put through a ricer onto your work surface. Make a well and add the egg and half of the flour and work until incorporated and evenly mixed, adding the rest of the flour as you go. Knead the dough until its just pulled together and you don’t see tiny potato pieces. Try not to overwork the dough. Form into logs, cut off half-inch sized pieces and roll them on a gnocchi board or fork.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

Gorgonzola Sauce

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 fresh sage leaves
8 oz gorgonzola cheese
½ cup cream
Fresh ground pepper
Salt to taste

Preparation

Saute the onion in butter until soft, add sage leaves and continue to cook gently without browning. Add gorgonzola and cook over low heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Add cream and heat through, being careful not to boil. Season with ground pepper and check for salt; some cheese is saltier than others. Serve over homemade potato gnocchi and top with some fresh ground Parmigiana cheese as garnish.

Walnut Cream Sauce

Walnut Cream Sauce

Sugo di Noci (Walnut Cream Sauce)

1 cup walnuts, chopped fine
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
White pepper, ground
Salt

Preparation

Put the cream, walnuts, Parmigiano, and butter in a saucepan and heat. Salt and pepper to taste; bring to a simmer and then turn off heat. Allow to remain hot until pasta is cooked, then toss and serve with a sprinkling of more Parmigiano and finely chopped parsley. Because gnocchi or pasta continues to absorb liquid, you will need to save some of the pasta water to add when you toss the pasta, as it may seem dry. Serve over homemade potato gnocchi and top with some fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese as garnish.

Strawberry Semifreddo

Strawberry Semifreddo

Strawberry Semifreddo

1 cup sugar
3 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 egg whites
½ cup sugar
1 pint whipping cream
Dark chocolate, melted
Strawberries for garnish, whole

Preparation

Combine the first cup of sugar together with chopped strawberries and lemon juice and bring to a boil, allowing to cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and cool completely.

Whip the egg whites with ½ cup sugar until stiff, then whip the cream. Fold together with the cooled syrup.

Spread the semifreddo in a pan, or into individual cups, and freeze until set. To serve, allow it to sit at room temperature 10 minutes then either slice or invert onto plates. Serve with fresh strawberries and chocolate drizzled on top.

To find out more about Gina, her cookbook and Italian culinary tours, visit www.EccoLaCucina.com

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