Book contest

Enter this contest for a chance to win a signed copy of A Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness:

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Italy’s coffee culture

I wrote an article about Italy’s coffee culture for AOL/Huffington Post’s My Daily site. Please check it out (and comment, if you feel so inclined!) at
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Il pizzaiolo

Alex fa la pizza!

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Red hot (and green) chili peppers

This past week, the three of us took a trip to New Mexico. Michael had a conference in Santa Fe and I have family outside Albuquerque so it was a perfect opportunity to take a mini-vacation and have everyone meet Alex. We also snuck in a trip to Taos which was well worth it.
And, the food? Well, of course the Southwestern and Mexican fare was amazing! I might have been slightly bean-and-chilied out by the time we left, but now I’m ready for more chiles rellenos and sopaipillas. I loved that ordering green chiles on burgers is standard fare, and that you can find all sorts of dried hot peppers in the local supermarket. Any ideas on some “authentic” Mexican restaurants in Chicago? I clearly need to explore the Pilsen neighborhood further. Below are some photos from a delicious meal in Taos, which included tortilla soup and enchiladas.
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The dishes are done

Italian proverb of the day: Chi la sera i pasti li ha fatti, sta agli altri lavare i piatti. Translation: If one cooks the meal then the others wash up. Pasti means meals but the word pasta clearly derives from it. This is an Italian proverb, after all.
Amen to that. As noted by our recent Easter extravaganza, Michael cooks a feast (with my help prepping), and I clean, clean, clean! Although, these days, cleaning most often occurs in the morning. Alex’s room is right off the kitchen–not the most conducive spot for banging around pots and pans. Sometimes I’m afraid to open the fridge door, but if a glass of wine beckons, what can you do? Frequently there’s a 10-car pile up in the sink that I tackle after breakfast. By “tackle” I mean wrestle into the dishwasher, which can be a chore when Alex tries to take them back out. Watch out for sharp utensils!
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We ate the Easter bunny

Michael might be a gourmet cook and I his trusted sous chef, but neither of us are dessert experts, especially not in the particulars of fondant icing. So, we bought a cake in the shape of a rabbit (see below) to celebrate Easter. I’ve included some before and after pictures–the second photo is after my co-workers took a stab at it! It went well with the real rabbit in porchetta that we ate. Delicious!

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Now that’s devotion

Wow. Check out the birthday “cake” (jello mold) that Michael made featuring photos of me and Alex. Thanks to Jeff Nichols for the idea!

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Goats Gone Wild

I know, I know…it’s been ages since I’ve blogged. Just wanted to share a quick post about a fantastic meal I had last night at The Girl and the Goat restaurant in Chicago–owned by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard. She worked hard all evening to manage the execution of every dish, and even posed with fans on her brief breaks. Situated in the West Loop, the space is loud and friendly, with dark wood floors and an open kitchen expanding the entire back of the restaurant. The waiters all wore black t-shirts with hilarious riffs on the back, such as Goats Gone Wild, Goat You and Don’t Feed the Goats But Beer is Okay. The place was packed–no surprises since we made reservations in January for this meal! It was worth it, though. The goat belly crudo with lobster was superb (although the goat empanada didn’t impress), but hands down, my favorite was the seared scallops with goat sausage. The flavor profile was divine–a Latin/Asian sauce that included thai basil and ají, a South American pepper. Below is a photo of the goat belly crudo. It really doesn’t do the dish justice, but the camera on my iPhone isn’t the best. We topped off the meal with rhubarb shortbread with lemon sorbet (I have to admit, my mom’s rhubarb cobbler is better) and an awesome chocolate cake with shiitake gelato. Trying that concoction, I felt like I was on Iron Chef. It might sound like an odd combo, but the shiitake and chocolate paired really well together. All in all, a great way to start the weekend.
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Buon San Valentino!

When we were in Portland over Christmas, the local newspaper ran a story about the “discovery” of a rare Italian cookbook, one that predates Pellegrino Artusi’s famous cookbook, The Art of Eating Well (1881). This book, Il Cuoco Maceratese by Antonio Nebbia, was published in 1809, making it one of the oldest Italian cookbooks we know of. And it’s from Le Marche, too!

The article included a recipe for a sumptuous lasagna, filled with silky béchamel sauce literally ladened with truffles. It’s called “Lasagna Princisgrass” because it was rich enough for a prince. We didn’t have time to make it in Oregon, but Michael thought it would be a fun primo for Valentine’s Day. He didn’t follow the recipe exactly—he added an egg yolk and fontina cheese to the béchamel to make it like a Tyrolian fonduta—and instead of plain pasta, he colored the dough red with organic beet juice! It was an excellent starter to accompany our secondo of lobster tails and Israeli couscous. We finished with a homemade chocolate mousse laced with peperoncino and sea salt.

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Feast of the Seven Fishes

We spent Christmas in Portland with my family this year, but we still celebrated the Italian-American Christmas Eve feast, La Vigilia, or the feast of the seven fishes.  It’s not certain where this tradition arose, but fish is symbolic in Catholicism (a symbol of rebirth) and it’s been said that the “lighter” meal on Christmas Eve is a form of abstinence in preparation for the greater feast on Christmas Day. Although, we don’t usually scrimp on the servings!  And, why seven fishes? It’s most likely a religious reference, since seven corresponds to the number of sacraments, deadly sins, etc.

While every family has their own traditions, typically you eat baccalà (salted cod fish), calamari, scungilli (conch), anguilla (eel) and escarole stuffed with anchovies. And, in Michael’s family, it’s mostly fried. Michael doesn’t even like fried fish much—particularly not baccalà!—but it’s tradition. So, we bought some salted cod, fresh Dungeness crab (my absolute favorite—Maryland crabs don’t even compare), shrimp, calamari, and escargot (in place of the conch). We made a delicious seafood salad filled with pickled vegetables, crab and clams. Next on the menu was pasta allo scoglio, with homemade linguine, crabs and clams, and pasta aglio e olio (oil and garlic). Michael’s family typically makes aglio e olio, but we wanted to honor Pesaro with one of its most popular dishes, pasta allo scoglio. Plus, the Dungeness crabs were too good to pass up. Then, we made fried calamari and a twist on the usual fried baccalà: baccalà/potato cakes. We looked for escarole but it was very difficult to find in Oregon—several stores had it on order, but nothing came in before Christmas. As an Italian-American from New Jersey, Michael always marvels that grocery stores don’t have baccalà or escarole readily available. They had to specially order the baccalà—a few days later it came packaged in a delicate wooden box—a far cry from the hanging baccalà in the supermarkets in New Jersey or in the pescherie in Italy. The last time we spent Christmas in Portland we just went to the Asian markets and found all the fish we needed! The meal turned out great as you can see in these photos.

Fried calamari

Pasta allo scoglio

Babbalucc' (escargot) and baccala' cakes

To learn more about the Italian Christmas Eve feast, read this article that Michael just published in the journal Food and Foodways.

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