Friday, September 23, 2011

Still Summer Salad

Has it cooled down where you live?
Here in Texas it has ( instead of being in the 100's we are now in the nice cool 90's). So it's clear, September is still summer, even if the official first day of Fall is today.
Truth be told, I'm enjoying the "summer" more now than I did in July. It's still unbearably hot, but now the mornings carry a nice cool breeze and the evenings aren't so sticky. Plus, I can actually go swimming without feeling like I'm sitting in a bath tub ( always a plus).

So since summer is still in full swing ( regardless of what the calendar says) I figure this salad is pretty perfect. It has the color and crunch that we crave when the weather is down right hot, and has the perfect lemony tang that makes you want to sit in the shade.

Even if it's getting colder where you are, you'll still want to try this one out. One bite, and you'll be back on the beach.

Summer Salad

adapted from a recipe by Giada Di Laurentis

Serves 2

1/2 pound of sugar snap peas
2 large cucumbers, peeled
2 large tomatoes ( I used Roma, but any type will do)
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1) Blanch the snap peas in salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately immerse the peas in an ice bath. This will keep them crunchy.
2) Dice the tomatoes and cucumbers. Combine with drained sugar snap peas in a large bowl. Top with salt and pepper. Toss
3) In a separate bowl, whisk oil and lemon juice together. Pour over salad. Toss and enjoy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

a new recipe and a big announcement

This time I have a valid reason for my absence.
Drumroll please......
I'm pregnant!!!!
We found out right when we got home from Greece, and even before the doctor confirmed it, I was feeling the woes of the first trimester full force.
Most nights I shied away from cooking, but on the rare event that I did turn on the stove it was only to make bland white rice, or eggs. Sometimes a sandwich or two would sneak into the pregnancy repertoire, but certainly not one worth mentioning ( because you all probably make a better grilled cheese than I do).
And that's how it went for three months.

Then, last month I visited my family in New Jersey and satisfied all of my pregnancy cravings which could not be fulfilled in Texas ( namely a Philly soft pretzel and an Italian pastry from south Philadelphia.) My mom even make me a treat which I hadn't had since I lived in Rome-white pizza topped with zucchini flowers, anchovies, and mozzarella. It didn't last long enough to take a picture though.

Being around all the great food, great family, and great friends made me my nausea disappear. And once I felt better, my brother Luciano put me to work at his restaurant at the Jersey shore.

Of course, there were many perks to working there. One night, Luciano created this fusilli pasta special that I devoured. When I came back to Texas I couldn't wait to recreate it for Gian Luca.
The verdict- it's a winner!

Fusilli with sausage and porcini mushrooms

serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casing removed
12 dried porcini mushrooms, diced
1 12 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 pound of fresh fusilli pasta ( dry will work too)

1)rehydrate the porcini mushrooms in one cup of warm water for 30 mins. Save the water.
2) Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and simmer until golden brown. Remove the garlic.
3) Add sausage into the pan and break it up into pieces with your spatula. Allow sausage to brown and then add the reserved porcini water and mushrooms.
4) Add the diced tomatoes and lower the heat, allowing the sauce to simmer for about 20 minutes.
5) Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, until al dente.
6) Add the pasta into the saucepan and toss until the pasta is coated.
7) Add grated pecorino and chopped parsley to taste.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

where I've been

Hello Blog friends-
For starters, my apologies for disappearing for over 2 months!
One minute I was counting down to my 30th birthday and the next minute it's June 9th...
So just to recap what's been going on over the past two months-
I've been grading papers and wrapping up the semester-
Writing, sending to agents, and waiting-
taking care of our new Kitten-- (an adorable rescue named Schiuma)
and vacationing in Crete!

But now we're back in Texas and ready to roll. I promise some Greek recipes soon.

Friday, March 25, 2011

6 days to the Big 3-0

As if the Bronx wasn't culturally diverse ( and sometimes shocking) enough, I decided, as a Sophomore in college, to go to Jamaica.

Now, I know what you're thinking-- who cares, a lot of college students go to Jamaica for spring break.

But my trip was vastly different. Instead of staying in a resort in Ochos Rios or Negril, my group stayed in a dorm in Kingston.

This trip was not about lavish beaches, tanning by a pool, or dancing until the early hours in the morning. This trip was about serving others.

Fordham University had a student run group called Global Outreach, whose main purpose was to organize volunteer trips during winter or spring break. I liked the sound of that, and while I wasn't brave enough to apply to the trip in India or Africa, I did muster up the courage to apply to Jamaica.

After a series of interviews, I was chosen to spend two weeks of winter break in Kingston with the eleven other students who made the "team". To prepare for the trip we met once weekly to talk about things we would encounter, to reflect on our week, to pray, and to organize the details. Only one girl had been to Kingston before, and she offered all the advice she could give.
But nothing could really prepare us for what we'd see. Jamaica is a third world country and was, at that time, engulfed in civil unrest. ( In fact, ours was the last trip to Kingston, as the city is too dangerous).

But amidst the crime, the poverty, images of starving children in the streets, and the sweltering heat, was one of the most touching moments of peace and beauty in my life.
We were blessed to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Kingston, and just seeing how these sisters devoted their lives helping the poor was overwhelmingly beautiful.

The residents in the Home for the Dying and Destitute were mostly older people, picked up off the streets and brought in the shelter for their dying days. But instead of fear and dismay, the walls were filled with love, laughter, and songs.

In addition to the Missionaries of Charity, we volunteered at a grade school, helping the teachers and principal with the lessons.
To thank us, the teachers threw us a dinner party, full of Jamaican favorites, including Akee and Saltfish, the dish they were raving about for days before the dinner.

As we were getting ready for the dinner, I remember feeling guilty for even having a party. It seemed odd to me to want to party after all we had seen there. When I told this to our group leader she replied, " you need to accept the gifts you're given."
So I did.

ACKEE AND SALTFISH (COD) RECIPE- Photo and recipe taken from here

Ackee and saltfish is Jamaica's national dish. This recipe is Americanized but still delivers great taste.


Serves: 4

1 Can of ackee, drained
1/2 lb boneless salt cod
3 tablespoons oil
2 onions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 scotch bonnet pepper skin finely chopped up
1 small tomato, chopped
3/4 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 sweet pepper chopped
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Recipe by ©

Soak the salt cod in a pot of water overnight to remove most of the salt. If the cod is still very salty, boil in water for 20 minutes. Drain cod and cut or break into small pieces.

Heat oil in a frying pan. Add the onions, thyme and scotch bonnet pepper, tomato, tomato paste and green peppers. Stir for a few minutes. Add the cod. Stir. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the can of drained ackee. Do not stir because this will cause the ackees to break up. Cook for a few more minutes then sprinkle with black pepper.

Best served with bammy, roast breadfruit, fried or cooked dumplings, or fried or cooked plantains, cooked yams and Jamaican sweet potatoes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

7 days to the big 3-0

I turn 30 on April 1st- but it's no laughing matter. Even though I've started an official countdown with this post and part of me is looking forward to my thirties, another slightly larger part of me is dreading it.
After giving it much thought, I realized why.
I loved my twenties.
I mean really really loved them.
Obviously there were the big things: graduations, career accomplishments, marriage. And these milestones really made my twenties shine.
But I can sum up the essence of my twenties in one word: travel.

My twenties took me to places I dreamed about ( ahem, Roma) and other places I'd never thought I'd go (Hello Minneapolis) so I've decided to dedicate this countdown to some of the places near and dear to my heart.
Of course, I'll include the food that will always always always take me back to that place:

So we'll start in a place where probably none of you want to go- but that I dreamed of as a teenager: The Bronx

I moved to the Bronx when I was 18 to attend Fordham University, and though I wasn't yet in my twenties, I did start the decade there, so it's only fair to dedicate at least one post to the "Boogie Down".

Unlike other freshman, I was armed with knowledge- my brother Joe went to Fordham four years earlier, and gave me the best brotherly advice possible- "Go to Pizza Mike's".
So while other freshmen sat in the cafeteria on our first night, I led a small group of new friends down Webster Avenue to get what would be the first of many Sicilian slices.

But any Fordham Alum will tell you that most late night- vodka infused debates stemmed from one topic-- who has the best pizza?
While Mike's is a strong contender, Pugsley's usually wins in the end.
A quick Google search confirmed that both are still in business and, as this is a Thursday night, I'm sure some undergrads are frequenting one of the local bars and trying to decide which pizza to consume at 3,4,or 5 am.
Even though I always preferred Mike's thick pizza- which was the main culprit of the notorious freshman fifteen that I packed on ( and didn't lose until my mid twenties)-- Pugsley's stole my heart for an entirely different reason: their chicken rolls.

Picture this folks: a chicken parm wrapped in pizza dough and baked in the oven. Enough said.

And while I don't have a recipe, or a photo, you can use your imagination on this one. If by chance you ever find yourself in the Bronx, you might just want to make your way to Pugsley's for one. Just take the D train to Fordham Road and follow the hoards of students, they'll steer you in the right direction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March is Madness

Hello lovelies!
I signed on this morning and felt the need to apologize for my month long unintentional hiatus. I meant to post more in February- it was actually written in on my planner each week, but like many things that month, I put blogging on the back burner.
So what have I been doing?
Mostly I've been grading and lesson planning- I actually forgot how time consuming teaching can be. Really, hats off to all you veteran teachers out there. I don't know how you do it year after year. It's only been half a semester and I'm ready to throw out my red pen and call it a day.

I've also been obsessively checking email lately ( which also takes time away from grading and, therefor blogging; its a vicious cycle of procrastination). The reason for my new behavior is that I have currently have five agents reading my book, and I'm waiting to hear what they all think. I'm an emotional eater, so, needless to say, I've been doing a lot of mindless snacking. Right now there's a jar of almonds sitting next to me which I keep reaching into.

It's sort of a good thing that I've been snacking lately because I actually haven't been cooking all that much. That's what working 4 nights a week will do to you. But don't worry, next week is spring break and I plan to spend most of it in the kitchen and at this computer.

Until then...

Monday, February 7, 2011


I have a confession- I'm not the biggest pasta fan.
Ok, that's sort of a lie.
I actually love pasta in any way, shape or form. I just don't eat it all that much. Not that I'm low carb or anything- if you've read this blog at all you'd know that.
It's just that I try not to eat too much white flour ( and when I do, I like it in cookie form).

But my husband, who was born and raised in Italy, loves his pasta. He'd eat it every day if I made it. I'm almost positive that before we got married he did eat pasta everyday. What can I say? He's a man who knows what he loves.

So to keep him happy, I make pasta every now and again, but usually I make a whole wheat version for myself (Gian Luca doesn't eat whole wheat pasta- that would be like giving up his Italian passport).

This particular pasta dish makes an appearance in my new book ( a novel with recipes).
I don't know the origin of pasta alla Norma, but I do know that it is a delicious mix of eggplant, onions and tomatoes. If you like eggplant parmigiana, you'll love this one.

Pasta alla Norma
serves two

1/2 pound rigatoni
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
7 Roma tomatoes, diced.
2 cups eggplant, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1/4 cup grated ricotta salata ( or feta)

1) Bring ten cups of water to boil. Add salt to flavor the pasta.
2) Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onions, salt and pepper and cook until translucent.
3) Add the tomatoes and eggplant. Reduce the heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer for 15-20 minutes, adding a few spoonfuls of the pasta water if necessary. (While the sauce is simmering, you can cook the pasta).
4) Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the saucepan, and toss to coat it.
5) Top the pasta with grated parmigiano reggiano and ricotta salata ( or feta)

Friday, February 4, 2011

another snow day

It's 10:13am and I'm writing this post from my bed. Normally I'd be at the gym by now ( new years resolution!!) or at least, showered and out the door. But today, for the fourth day in a row, I'm home, savoring my snow day.
Today is especially nice because I woke up at about 6 am feeling like I got leveled by a bus. I'm a workaholic so I would have gone into work anyway, but the freshly fallen snow saved me.
It's lovely, really. I'd take a picture for you but you can probably look out your window and see the same exact scene ( unless you live some place tropical- in which case, I envy you)

I don't know about you, but snow days always make me lazy. I know I should be doing some work, getting ahead on my lesson plans, or creating cool assignments, but really, snow days are made for taking a break, fixing yourself a cup of tea and putting your feet up.
Think back to when you were a kid. You didn't do homework on a snow day. You went out and played!

Honestly, all I've really done is send a few emails and correct a few papers. I haven't even cooked much, hence the sandwich. Though, this afternoon I will be making a big pot of chicken soup.
And while that's cooking, I'll be doing what I love best. Reading.
I just finished Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris, and Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. After all that non-fiction, I'm craving some quality fiction, so I'm about to start Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
I'm a fast reader and it looks like I'll be in bed most of the weekend, so throw your recommendations my way.

Ah, the luxury of snow days. When else can we devote and entire day to doing stuff we love?
What do you do on your snow days?

Friday, January 21, 2011

A determined woman

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say "Today I'm going to..."
Because today, I woke up with determination, with gusto, and spirit. Today I'm going to finally master the art of making dough.

I'm not talking about pasta dough; that's easy. All that requires is a little flour, an egg and some water. I'm talking about any dough that requires my arch nemesis- yeast.

The only time I've ever tried to make bread with yeast I ended up with a brick that we had to saw through, dunk in coffee, and chew almost a thousand times before swallowing.

It was not pretty.

But last night it dawned on me. I'm almost thirty. And though I still get carded when buying alcohol, I can't fake it any longer. I'm almost thirty.
Before going to sleep, I though of what a great decade my twenties were. I graduated college and grad school, wrote a book, became a teacher, lived in Rome ( twice), met the love of my life, got married, moved around a lot, wrote another book--- whew.
All this and I'm scared of a little yeast.

Or at least I was until now.

To be completely honest, bread dough was a little too scary, so I thought of an easy alternative: pizza dough. Any good Italian girl approaching thirty should have a nice pizza dough recipe in her back pocket. That's not being stereotypical, it's just how it is. So this morning, in my determined state, I called my mother, a woman with more than one recipe under her belt.

My mother is perhaps the most determined woman I know; I can't even list all the she's accomplished in her life- it'd make my little list seem unimpressive. Really, she can do whatever she puts her mind to-- including figuring out mystery recipes from favorite restaurants.

My family hardly ever went out to eat- when you own a restaurant, you don't go out to restaurants for fun because you almost always leave disappointed. There are a few key exceptions to this, and Fiorello's in NYC is one of them.

Fiorello's has been a staple in my family for years. It's located right on Broadway, across the street from the Metropolitan Opera House, and has been my dad's favorite place for years.

We've celebrated big milestones there ( my twentieth birthday being one) and it's even the site of one of the first dates Gian Luca and I went on ( I finagled that one myself).

Ok, so what does this restaurant have to do with yeast bread? Among the things we love about Fiorello's is the amazing flatbread which they put in baskets on every table. I love it so much that, more than once I've gone in just to buy some. They don't normally sell it for take-out, but a determined woman always gets her way.

One day, my brother Joey came home from New York with a bag of flatbread for my mom. "Can you figure out how to make this?" he asked, and the challenge was on. Like I said before, my mother will always figure out how to make something.

It didn't even take her long. And before we knew it, the flatbread was a staple in our holiday breadbaskets. This Christmas alone I must have eaten at least two trays. It's that good.

And now, after almost thirty years of life, I too have mastered the recipe for flatbread, yeast and all. This is probably a bad thing actually, since I've already eaten four pieces.

Yeast beware- I'm no longer afraid of you. Next time, I'll be baking bread.


1 envelope dry active yeast ( 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil ( plus more for coating the pans)
1 cup water
mixed herbs ( I used parsley, oregano and rosemary)
salt and pepper

1- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Stir 1 envelope yeast into 1/4 cup warm water. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar and let rest for ten minutes. If the mixture doubles in volume, the yeast is active.

2- In a large bowl, combine the flour, water and olive oil. Stir in the yeast and knead until the dough forms a ball ( you can use a mixer with a dough hook if you want).

3- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for at least 30 mins.

4- once the dough rises to double its original size, punch it down. ( This will be enough for two medium sized pizzas if you want it for that).

5. Generously oil a baking sheet. Stretch 1/4 of the dough onto the sheet, making sure to pull it nice and thin ( don't worry if it tears a little).

6. Drizzle olive oil on top of the dough, and add your favorite herbs, salt and pepper.
7. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

our new kitchen

Right now, our kitchen smells like the chicken soup bubbling on the stove and the table is covered with papers and books. My husband's sweatshirt is strewn over a chair and mail is piling up on the counter-tops. It might sound like a disaster, but it feels so right.

To be honest, when we looked at this house for the first time, I wasn't really attracted to the kitchen. It wasn't ugly ( except for the purple walls) and it didn't really need any work, but for some reason, I didn't like it.
The staging felt cold, abandoned.

We moved right after Thanksgiving and the first boxes I unpacked were for the kitchen. It seemed like the logical place to start. And little by little, the place started to feel like home (the new spiffy yellow walls helped a little too). Soon enough, I fell in love.

So even though most of the house is empty, our kitchen is warm and lived in.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

a procrastinator at heart

On December 31st I made a bunch of resolutions.
In 2011 I would:
1- Go on a diet
2- Join the gym
3- Blog regularly ( about what, I don't know, since I'd be dieting)

You get the point.
And here it is, January 13th and I've done none of these. Should I blame the cold weather? The fact that we were traveling for the Holidays? Or should I just chalk it up to the fact that some habits can't be broken.

Like procrastination, for instance.
I'm the number one culprit. In college and grad school a paper couldn't be written unless it was due the next day ( thank God for coffee). And even as a teacher, I would put off grading until the students started nagging me about their tests.
Then there's the house work, which I always promise to start right after this show...
And of course I'll finish this book, right after I clean the house.
You know the drill.
Yep, I'm the queen of procrastination.
I guess I should do something about that.
But first let me finish this blog post.....