Yearly Archives: 2008

Arthur Avenue Italian Food Tour

Mother Nature has been giving us quite a whalloping lately. Fortunately, there was a break between storms which allowed me to take up an invitation to visit Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. This is where the Italian population moved to after they landed in Little Italy and were able to make enough money to get out of the tenements. I had been looking forward to making this trip very much, as I was hoping to get my hands on some fresh pasta and other specialties that I’d been missing since I lived in Italy, so I was glad that we could make it.

I was not disappointed at all. It was very much like being let loose in a candy-shop for an adult food lover. Brands and items that I hadn’t seen since I lived overseas were available. The aroma of the bakery we stopped at brought me back to Europe with piles of bread on the shelves and fresh-baked goods on display. Of course, I could not resist picking up some of the soft almond cookies and the pine nut cookies to take to my family for the holidays on our visit to Madonia Brothers Bakery (2348 Arthur Avenue).


We dropped by the Casa Della Mozzarella (604 East 187th Street) to pick up some freshly-made cheese. While on line waiting to place our orders, we were offered samples of some chocolate and hazelnut candy along with some Italian pop music. The real highlight of our trip, however, was to be Borgatti’s (632 East 187th Street) for some handmade pasta.

The line was long, but everyone was in great spirits. One counter was for the ravoli (cheese and meet) and the other was for the sheets of pasta cut to order in any size. This was a unique and very interesting experience. When I finally made it to the head of the line, having been prepped ahead of time, I asked for a pound each of the golden egg and the pine-green spinach pasta, cut to a tagliatelle. I’d picked up a box of the ravioli first. My family is going to be very spoiled this holiday.

The real treat, from my perspective was that I spotted some fresh cavatelli while we were on line. I haven’t seen this pasta very much in the United States and to find it freshly-made here was wonderful. The shape has a slit in the middle which is great for clinging whatever sauce is added to it. It is robust enough to take on a meaty ragu and delicate enough to handle the creamy zucchini sauce that I’d found tucked away in a cookbook and decided to try.

I’m definitely going to prepare a better list the next time I head up there so that I can make sure not to miss out on the other goodies that I can buy. This should keep me in good stead until I can get back to Italy again.

Buon appetito!

Magic Cookie Bars

You know those foods that come under the category of “things you ate at other people’s houses”? Well, Magic Cookie Bars fall into that group, as well as the group of “things that I ate at potlucks” and “things that my mother didn’t make.” These might have been a bit too much of off-the-back-of-every-bag-and-box type of cookie for her.

It was great to see that the recipe is listed in About.com’s “Southern Food” category, being from that region myself. These fall into the domain of bar cookies, of which I am a big fan and with which I grew up: lemon bars, linzer bars, brownies, blondies, Rice Krispy treats, no-bake things, etc. They are quick and easy to make, transport well, and are usually a huge hit when served.

So, when I recently had these at an event back home, I realized that I should track down the recipe and add it to my collection. This co-incided nicely with the birthday party of one of my work colleagues and my annual holiday cookie baking bug. I think that they turned out looking pretty well.

They tasted even better, to boot. Topped with toasted coconut, studded with chocolate chips and pecans, sitting on a graham cracker bed, held together by condensed milk that turns into a caramel – really, what is there not to like!

Buon appetito!

Tarte flambée

I was strolling through Apartment Therapy this past week, a favorite non-food blog, and decided to click through to their sister site The Kitchn, where they often post great recipes. What should open up on the first page, but something that just flooded me with memories of happy travels and much wonderful eating. It was a photo of a gorgeous Tarte Flambée.

Between living in Italy and getting settled in London, many years ago when I was living in Europe, I spent a few lovely weeks in Strasbourg, in Alsace-Lorraine. Although I knew of the mixed German-French history of the region, I didn’t really understand how that contributed to its culinary culture. Fortunately, I had a few friends who guided me along the way. We’d meet in the town center and then head out to one restaurant or another eating local dishes like choucroute or other French regional specialties like crêpes.

With the weather having turned frigid here and the opening of the annual holiday markets in several locations around the city, the memories of the time I spent in that town were just reinforced for me. We would wander through the seasonal crafts fairs, looking at all the wares and picking up a freshly-made, loaded crêpe along with a cup of steaming hot orange and honey or glühwein to ward off the chill and to keep us fortified for some more shopping.

As the posting with the photo indicates, tarte flambée is simple, hearty and flavorful and just the perfect thing to tide one over until dinner after tackling a day of selecting gifts for the family. I’d forgotten how delicious it is and how perfect it is for cold winter afternoons. This is one recipe I need to try out and to add to my repertoire.

Buon appetito!

Baked Couscous with Spinach and Pine Nuts – A Potluck Standby

Tonight, I’m heading to a pre-Thanksgiving potluck. I offered to cook whatever was needed, except for providing the meat dishes, as those are not that easy to transport. Vegetable dishes were, what I was told, most in demand. So, I decided to pull an old favorite out of my recipe card file – Baked Couscous with Spinach and Pine Nuts – which came to me from a clipping in The Washington Post, but is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. (This year, in addition to reworking the recipes in my mother’s card file, I also thought it would be good to tackle my own.)

My usual M.O. has generally been to opt for bringing dessert to these gatherings, as I have a no-fail, crowd-pleaser one that I save for the holidays (See last year’s Thanksgiving post). I’m a little bit sad that I’m not making that this year, but I might save that pie for our family holiday get-together. One year, when I was working overseas and participated in an enormous potluck Turkey Day meal/party, a friend and I joined forces and made about fourpies (two of the ones I made last year and two apple, if I remember correctly), and I managed to pull off preparing this same vegetarian dish as well.

This recipe isn’t just for the holidays, it is easy enough to make and goes far enough that it would be a good, tasty weeknight dinner option as well. I’ve paired it with grilled lemon-garlic-olive oil marinaded chicken to round it out and also served it at a dinner party, starting off with Middle Eastern dips and pitas. It is even flexible enough to be prepared as a vegan dish – just substitute your favorite non-dairy cheese alternative. I just used some leftover parmesan and pecorino that I had in the fridge, which worked just fine.

On top of everything else, the colors in this dish are bright and vibrant, and it will stand out at any potluck table. Oh, and did I mention that the leftovers are great to bring to work as well, if there are any, that is? Almost every time I’ve made it, there’s nothing but a few crumbles of couscous left at the bottom of the tray!

Buon appetito!

Pork & Apples with Apple, Brandy, Sage Cream Sauce – A Taste of Fall

Remember those apples I bought several weeks ago in order to make the tarte tatin? Well, it turns out that a quarter of a peck – see the bag above – goes a lot further than I realized it would. I made a second tarte – handily, sheets of puff pastry are sold in boxes of two – and still had some apples left. So, my brain turned to other options.

My feet and senses had come across the stand selling apple cider at the Greenmarket. That, and some leftover herbs from another cooking project, made me decide to try my hand at creating a dish which would bring together the best of fall’s flavors and foods into something solid and comforting. The other aspect of this recipe is that this lets me showcase some of the flavors of my home state, Virginia, which has been much-talked about lately due to the upcoming Presidential election.

The sweet-tart apple slices form a base around the pork chop. Then, brandy and apple cider come together with cream for a luscious sauce perfumed with fresh sage to wrap around it all in a warm embrace. Paired with a chilled chardonnay, this is a hearty comfort-style dish meant to wrap up a crisp-cool autumn day spent trouncing through fallen leaves and taking walks in the woods, inhaling the smells of the season.

Pork and Apples with Apple-Brandy-Sage Cream Sauce

Prep Time: 30 to 45 minutes

Serving Size: for 2 adults, but can easily be expanded to feed more

Ingredients:
2 pork loin chops
2 apples (like Jonagold, Macoun, MacIntosh), peeled, cored and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 tsp cooking oil or bacon grease (if you are *really* from Virginia, this is in a can in the back of your fridge)
1 tsp butter
1 shot brandy
1/3 c. unfiltered apple cider (non-alcoholic)
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh sage
salt
pepper

Assembly:
Heat cooking oil or bacon grease in skillet. Put pork chops in pan and sear on each side (about 2-3 minutes per side). Put on plate and place in oven to keep warm.

Add butter to pan and place apples in a single layer. Cook until they have browned slightly on each side. Set aside. Remove pan from the heat and pour in one shot of brandy. Add apple cider and return to heat. Mix in a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, and 1 tsp of the minced sage. Scrap off any bits that might have stuck to the pan. Cook liquid until reduced by one-half.

Add cream, stir ingredients together, and simmer until the mixture becomes thickened, about 5 minutes. Put the apples in a circle on the plate, letting them overlap. Place pork on top of apples. Pour cream sauce on top of pork and let it drip onto the apples. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 tsp of sage on top of dish.

Buon appetito!

Tarte Tatin for The Apple Dumpling Gang

“My bank, my beautiful bank.” It seems like more than a few people might have a need to say this phrase after this weekend, although not quite in the same context. Despite the hiatus I’ve been on from writing this blog, I’m still in banking (for the moment) and also still blogging. At first glance, food blogging and working in finance might not seem like a fit, but they can work together, much like the diverse cast of the movie from which the quote at the beginning of this piece is taken.

Remember when Sunday nights meant that extra hour of weekend tv – or maybe it was already budgeted from your daily two-hour allotment – so that you could watch The Wonderful World of Disney? This afternoon, I was taken back to that place with a showing of “The Apple Dumpling Gang” on TMC. It’s amazing how many faces I recognized in the movie for their later (or earlier) work. Sadly, some of these folks are no longer with us.


Maybe the movie was a bit sappy even for its own time, but this junior Western had some notable players. Don Knotts and Tim Conway (of “The Carol Burnett Show” and other fame), Harry Morgan (Col. Potter of M*A*S*H), John McGiver (the Tiffany’s shop clerk in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), and not forgetting Bill Bixby, later known as Dr. David Banner – yes that was a gratuitous reference to you-know-who for the new daddy in our family. Wouldn’t that scene on the water where he was wrestling with the bad guy been much more effective if he’d said, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Or maybe that’s just funny to me.

It was a simpler era in the mid-seventies, at least for a child, and I’d never actually heard of or eaten an apple dumpling when I first saw that movie. Since then I have, but with apple season taking off in New York, it brings to mind another dish which has become one of my recipe file staples. Unfortunately, I’m not able to find this one in print or on-line. It’s from BBC Good Food and is from about ten or so years ago, once again proving that, like the movie, a semi-oldie can still be a goody.

Buon appetito!