Monthly Archives: December 2012

Panzanella with Lioni Mozzarella and Sullivan Street Bakery Ciabatta

I grew up in the part of Brooklyn that is still visited by TV shows for their culinary landmarks. Italian food is second nature to me. I didn’t know that mozzarella was sold in the refrigerated section until I started grocery shopping for myself and saw Polly-O. I grew up feeling as comfortable with pasta e fagioli as with my moms Russian soups.

A couple of blocks from the house that I grew up in (and my parents still reside in) is Lioni Latticini. I remember taking my husband there, when he was still my boyfriend, and being more nervous than when I introduced him to my parents. When I walk through the door and breathe in the air, it’s truly like coming home again. The fresh prosciutto bread, the pickled vegetables and olives and of course, the mozzarella.  I know that since the days of my youth, Lioni has grown into a big, fancy company, distributing across the US. My local Whole Foods carries them, but I’ll only buy it from Brooklyn. To me, nothing beats the flavor of room temperature mozzarella that was made within the past few hours.

Queue: children. My kids have the strangest affinity for fresh mozzarella. Around age 3, they each have been capable of devouring an entire pound ball of mozzarella on their own. Strange affinity indeed!! 

This salad is something that I make all year round, but it appears more often during the summer because of the abundance of ingredients that I usually have on hand. First is that it’s an all-in-one-bowl masterpiece… and my favorite part of any dish: it’s flexible! If I have freshly roasted peppers, they go into the salad. Capers? Throw them in! Fresh basil too! The only thing that I won’t compromise on is the quality of the mozzarella!

Cube up some great bread.
If it’s already stale, even better! Skip the baking step.

Tossing the bread with olive oil, garlic and salt

Ciabatta into the oven to crisp up
Respect for the simple beauty that is… cheese.
Dice the mozzarella
Pretty, pretty basil leaves
Fine slice on the basil leaves
(you can add more than 4 basil leaves, but I use less so that the taste isn’t overwhelming for the kids)
Finely diced shallot
Child labor for the tomato cutting

All ingredients into the bowl!



1/2 loaf of stale or fresh whole wheat ciabatta, cut into bite size cubes (this one was from Sullivan Street Bakery)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
sprinkle of kosher salt

1 pound Campari tomatoes, cut into bit size pieces
1 pound of Lioni mozzarella
1 small shallot, finely diced
4 large basil leaves, finely sliced/chiffonade
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
between 1/4 and 1/3 cup olive oil (to your taste)
kosher salt to taste 


Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

1. Toss cubes of bread with olive oil, crushed garlic and sprinkle of kosher salt. Make sure to evenly coat. 
2. Evenly distribute on a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until the cubes are sufficiently crusty. If your bread is already stale, great! Skip the baking step. 
3. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

4. In a large salad bowl, combine tomatoes, mozzarella, shallot and basil leaves.  
5. Dress with vinegar and oil. Adjust for additional oil and salt to your taste. Enjoy!

Eat, Drink & Be Yummy!


Spinach & Basil Pesto

Pesto. Yum! 

This is a go-to recipe in our house because of it’s flexibility. I know, I know, I’m signing a familiar tune. No pignoli? I’ll use walnuts or almonds. No parmesan? I’ll subsitute with asiago or grana padano or romano. The latitude and flexibility is also extended to the basil component.

Sometimes I make it with all basil, but when I know that the kids will be eating most of it, I slightly tone down the strong taste of basil by replacing about half with baby spinach. If that’s all it takes to get my kids to eat this deliciousness, I’m willing to make the change!! The pesto still has a wonderful and robust flavor, but it’s a bit more gentle on the palate than the all-basil version.

Aside from the amazing way pesto tastes with pasta, you can also spread it on a sandwich instead of mayo or toss with chicken cubes for an amazing chicken salad. If you’re feeling really daring, use it as a dip with your favorite veggies or pita chips!
Note: The result of this recipe is intended to be a little “thick”. When we toss it with pasta, I add a bit of the water that the pasta was cooked in.  When we use it on sandwiches, I don’t dilute it.
1 1/3 cup packed spinach. Ok, so maybe a bit more…
1 cup packed basil
1/3 cup toasted pignolis
2/3 cup grated parmesan
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
All ingredients into ONE pot!!!
Pulse until pulverized
Stream in olive oil
I’m in LOVE with this shot 🙂
Presto, Pesto!!

Spinach & Basil Pesto


1 cup basil, packed
1 1/3 cup baby spinach, packed
4 garlic cloves, peeled (less, if you’re not a fan of garlic)
1/3 cup toasted pignolis (pine nuts)
2/3 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup good virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Combine spinach, basil, garlic, pignolis, parmesan  in a food processor. Pulse until pulverized.

With the food processor on, in a slow stream, pour in olive oil and allow to emulsify.
Turn off food processor and taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Braised Oxtail with Oyster Mushrooms over Creamy Polenta

A former colleague and great friend gave me ad hoc at home a few years ago. The photographs are stunning. The writing flows easily and matches the ease that family styled recipes should have. Although I can probably recite the contents of the book from memory, I’ve never made a recipe. I’m so enamored with the photos that the doubt in my mind yells at me saying “but what if it doesn’t LOOK like Thomas Keller’s creation?!!”  If I was going to make something from the book, it would have to be something that I wouldn’t be able to compare to the photo.  A picture-less recipe!! I would make this creation and photograph it, to create my own visual standard to live up to!

Braised Oxtail with Oyster Mushrooms over Creamy Polenta

Enter Braised Oxtail and Mushroom Tartine. Immediately, I knew that I’d be replacing the tartine part of the recipe with a creamy polenta because this was going to be the entree at my dinner party. I love oxtail, but have never cooked it myself.  It took almost an entire day to prepare, but the work was well worth the effort.

THE Tome
Searing the oxtails


Seared oxtails


Post braise oxtails, removed from the bones
(bones kept for a special treat for my birthday guest!)
Oyster Mushrooms


Oyster Mushrooms cut into the pot!
Sauteing mushrooms and adding the shallots
Adding the oxtail and reserved juice into the sauteed mushrooms and shallots
Braised Oxtail with Oyster Mushrooms
Happiness in a pot!

Braised Oxtail with Oyster Mushrooms over Creamy Polenta

Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller


About 4 pounds of oxtail (about 2 trays)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil
About 5 cups beef stock
12 oz. (about 5 cups) oyster mushrooms, cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
2 tablespoons sliced shallots
3 sprigs of thyme


Preheat the oven to 400.

Generously season oxtails with salt and pepper. Pour 2-3 tablespoons canola oil into a large ovenproof saute pan (or dutch oven) and heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Reduce the heat to medium, add about half the oxtails, and cook, adjusting the heat if necessary, until browned on all sides, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining oxtails.

Pour off the fat and return the oxtails to the pan. Add enough beef stock to come halfway up the oxtails. Bring to a simmer, cover, transfer to the oven, and cook until the oxtails are tender, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Turn the oxtails over and let rest on top of the stove for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour.

Remove the oxtails from the cooking liquid, and strain the cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer; set aside. Using your hands, remove the meat from the bones, discarding the fat and tough connective tissue, and put the meat in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (The meat can be covered with the strained cooking liquid and refrigerated overnight. The cooking liquid will solidify; when you reheat the oxtails it may be necessary to add about 1/4 cup water).

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of canola oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add half the mushrooms and cook, without moving them, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Cook the remaining mushrooms in the same way.

Return all the mushrooms to the saute pan, add the shallots and thyme, and cook for 1-2 minutes, until the shallots soften. Add the butter and cook, stirring, until the liquid the mushrooms release has cooked off and they are glazed with butter, about 2 minutes. Stir in the oxtails, then pour in the reserved cooking liquid, bring to a simmer, and simmer until the liquid has reduced considerably and glazed the meat and mushrooms, about 20 minutes.

Remove the sprigs of thyme (the leaves will have fallen off).

Meanwhile, prepare polenta.

Creamy Polenta


1/2 cup of fast cooking grits
2 cups of chicken broth (or water)
sprinkle of salt
about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of whatever shredded cheeses you like (sharp cheeses do well here… parmesan, sharp cheddar, asiago, grueyere, herbed goat cheese… blue cheese even. If you do mozzarella, add an extra sprinkle of salt and some garlic). If you don’t shred the cheese, cut it into small pieces… it just makes the melting of the cheese in the last step a little bit easier.


1. Bring chicken broth (or water) and a sprinkle of salt to a rolling boil.
2. Add grits.
3. Reduce heat to medium.
4. Stir.
5. Stir some more.
6. Stir for about 5-7 minutes until the grits has fluffed up and have become very creamy in their texture.
7. Take off of the heat.
8. Add shredded cheese(s). Keep stirring! 🙂
9. Season with salt and pepper to taste
10. When all of the cheese has been incorporated… you’re done.
11. Serve polenta, topped with a generous helping of braised oxtail for a rich and hearty meal!
Eat, Drink & Be Yummy!

Baked Doughnuts Sufganiyot with Strawberry Jam

After my success this year with baked Apple Cider Doughnuts, I knew that it was possible to replicate the achievement with baked doughnuts for Hanukkah. I know… I know… I know that the whole point of eating traditionally fried jelly doughnuts is that they celebrate the oil that lasted 8 nights. Unfortunately, the fried dough has a tendency to last much longer than 8 nights on my thighs.

When I was growing up, Hanukkah was a reason to have a family meal and a way to get some gelt. My parents never tried to compete with Christmas; that’s what Russian New Year’s was for!  When the kids came into existence, we’ve decorated and gifted every year. For the past 6 years, we’ve celebrate Hanukkah in our small apartment with the entire family over our traditional chili dinner. While fried food has it’s gloriously delicious place in the world, this year it doesn’t have a place as our celebratory dessert!

Measure out 1 1/3 cups of milk and warm slightly warmer than room temperature.

Add 1/3 cup of warm milk and stir the yeast.  Let it stand for at least 5 minutes.

The yeast will become bubbly and foamy.
If it doesn’t, it was no longer active. Try again with another portion of yeast.
Cream the sugar and the room temperature butter, then add the other liquid ingredients.
Add the dry ingredients, remove the paddle attachment and replace it with the dough hook.
Shape the dough into a ball and place into a well oiled bowl.
Let stand for 1 1/2 hours.
The dough will double in size.
Roll out the dough to 1/2″ thickness.
Use a cookie cutter to make doughnuts.
Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.
Bake for 8-10 minutes
(I baked for 8 minutes. You don’t want to over-bake or even brown these.
Under-baking would be preferred)
Fill with Strawberry Jelly,
brush with melted butter and sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

1 1/3 cups warm milk, 95 to 105 degrees (divided)
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour (alternately, white whole wheat might work – haven’t tried it yet)
A pinch or two of nutmeg, freshly grated

1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

Place 1/3 cup of the warm milk in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the yeast and set aside for five minutes or so. Be sure your milk isn’t too hot or it will kill the yeast. Stir the butter and sugar into the remaining cup of warm milk and add it to the yeast mixture. With a fork, stir in the eggs, flour, nutmeg, and salt – just until the flour is incorporated. With the dough hook attachment of your mixer beat the dough for a few minutes at medium speed. This is where you are going to need to make adjustments – if your dough is overly sticky, add flour a few tablespoons at a time. Too dry? Add more milk a bit at a time. You want the dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl and eventually become supple and smooth. Turn it out onto a floured counter-top, knead a few times (the dough should be barely sticky), and shape into a ball.

Transfer the dough to a buttered (or oiled) bowl, cover, put in a warm place (I turn on the oven at this point and set the bowl on top), and let rise for an hour or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and roll it out 1/2-inch thick on your floured countertop. Most people (like myself) don’t have a doughnut cutter, instead I use a 2-3 inch cookie cutter to stamp out circles. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet and stamp out the smaller inner circles using a smaller cutter. If you cut the inner holes out any earlier, they become distorted when you attempt to move them. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Bake in a 375 degree oven until the bottoms are just golden, 8 to 10 minutes – start checking around 8. While the doughnuts are baking, place the butter in a medium bowl. Place the sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven and let cool for just a minute or two. Dip each one in the melted butter and a quick toss in the sugar bowl. Eat immediately if not sooner.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 dozen medium doughnuts.

Strawberry Jam

Happy Hanukkah!

Eat, Drink & Be Yummy!

Off-Season Strawberry Jam

I became obsessed with making my own jams this summer. With berries that we picked ourselves or got at the local farmers market, we ate our way through strawberry jam, cherry jam, blueberry jam, raspberry jam and finally a mixed berry jam.  It was an amazing summer for jam!

But here we are, in December, and I would love nothing more than to fill my fresh doughnuts with fresh jam.  Flash frozen strawberries!! Since I’d be cooking it down to a near-mush anyway, I wasn’t worried about the texture. These berries would be a fantastic stand-in!

Note: If you’re used to store bought strawberry jam, this recipe will be more tart than you’re used to.  Increase the amount of sugar by 1/2 cup and only use the juice of 1 lemon.

Zest lemons and then juice them
Add lemon juice, zest and sugar to the pot.

Peel and core a granny smith apple.
I love this color green!!
Coarsely shred the apple.
Keep one bag whole…
Chop the second bag of strawberries.
Freezer plate test.
(The first test is on the left, too runny.
I kept it boiling for another 5 minutes and tested again.
Produced the sample on the right. Nice and firm.)

Off-Season Strawberry Jam


32 ounces (2 bags)  frozen whole strawberries
lemon zest from 2 lemons
juice from 2 lemons
2 cups granulated suga

1 small granny smith apple, peeled and coarsely shredded



1. Put a small plate in the freezer. 

2. Place sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a nonreactive pot over medium-high heat. Let the sugar completely dissolve.
3. Cut half of the strawberries into small pieces.
4. Peel, core and coarsely grate the apple.
5. Add the whole strawberries, the grated apple and the small strawberry pieces into the pot.
6. Bring mixture to a full boil; cook, stirring, 10 minutes. 
7. Continue boiling on medium-high heat; use a stainless-steel spoon to remove foam from surface. Boil until most of the liquid is absorbed, mixture thickens, and temperature registers 220 degrees.on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes.

8. Perform a gel test: Remove the plate from the freezer. Place a spoonful of the jam on the plate and return to freezer. Wait 1 to 2 minutes; remove plate from freezer, and gently press jam with fingertip; it should not be runny, it should wrinkle slightly.
Eat, Drink & Be Yummy!

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Crostini

Ever since sharing my balsamic onion crostini a few weeks ago, I’ve felt a void. In this season of potlucks, I just gave up my most prized possession! Could I risk someone else making my dish to the school potluck holiday dinner? And then… then… Marc Bittman heard my mental anguish.

You remember how Ross made a laminated card with his 5 dream women on “Friends”? What? You don’t remember “Friends”? You might be too young to read this blog post. Kindly refer to reruns on Nick or your local WB channel. Well, Mark Bittman is one of the names on my laminated card. My affair with Mr. Bittman is rather one sided, as I follow his culinary adventures through the New York Times and he doesn’t know that I exist.

Mr. Bittman, similar to Alton Brown, has never let me down in the kitchen. Sure, we might not agree on some things… but overall, I roughly follow his instructions and everyone comes out happy! This fall he presented a crostini recipe from Jean-George Vongerichten. Jean-George!!!  While Mr. Vongerichten isn’t on my laminated card, it’s entirely possible that version 2.0 of my laminated card will include him.  (Play your cards right, JG!)  

A recipe from TWO stellar culinary beings?  A recipe that was perfect for a potluck? A fantastic replacement of my balsamic onion crostini?  Oh yes!  Buttery, smooth and slightly chunky, with a slight kick of spice at the end of the bite, this crostini is worthy of ANY dinner party! 

Peeling butternut squash is a chore.
Use help from the store and get it precut!
I cut the butternut quash into rounds and then cut the peel off.
Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp chili flakes and 2 tsps of kosher salt
Toss the butternut squash with the oil, chili flakes and salt
Pour onto baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes,
using a spatula to turn once or twice
The roasted squash will be slightly browned and very soft
Small dice a regular onion
(I had 3/4 of a behemouth onion from yesterday, so I used that)
Saute onions in 1/4 cup of olive oil

Saute onion on medium/high heat for about 15 minutes,
until the onions are gloriously browned
Measure out 1/4 cup each of apple cider vinegar and maple syrup.
I  measure both in one cup (loathe washing extra dishes!!)
Add vinegar and maple syrup to onions and reduce until “jammy”, about 10-15 minutes.
Jammy onions!
Add butternut squash and combine.
Squish a little, while still leaving some cubes intact.
Top baguette slices with ricotta and butternut squash mixture.
Top with a sprinkle of kosher salt and mint.

Butternut Squash, Ricotta Crostini 

Adapted from The New York Times

TOTAL TIME: About an hour


1 2 1/2- to 3 butternut squash: peeled, seeded and cut into pieces 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes, more to taste
3 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 baguette, sliced on a bias 1/2 thick
1/2 cup ricotta, goat cheese, feta or mascarpone
Coarse salt
4 tablespoons chopped mint


1.Heat the oven to 450. Combine the squash, 1/4 cup olive oil, chili flakes and 2 teaspoons of salt in a bowl and toss well. Transfer the mixture to a baking sheet and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender and slightly colored, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from the oven.
2.Meanwhile, heat another 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onions and remaining teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened and darkening, at least 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, stir and reduce until syrupy and broken down, again at least 15 minutes or so; the mixture should be jammy.
3.Combine squash and onions in a bowl and smash with a fork until combined. Taste for seasoning.
4. Optional: Add the remaining oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add bread and cook until just golden on both sides, less than 10 minutes total; drain on paper towels. (You can also dry the crostini out in the oven for a few minutes.)
5. Spread cheese on toasts, then top with the squash-onion mixture. 
6. Sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with mint.

Eat, Drink & Be Yummy!

Cincinnati Chili with Kale, Corn and Peas

Is there such a thing as having too many options?  You bet. While the kids often give their input as to what I make for them during the week, Sunday’s dinner is 100% their choice. But then what happens when you have three kids, each in the mood for something different? As much as I love them, making 3 separate dinners is completely out of the question. 

And then comes Cincinnati Chili, a meal to satisfy every type of hunger. Kid #1 requesting chili (the spicier, the better), kid #2 requesting pasta with sauce and kid #3 requesting meatballs. Winner, winner, chili dinner!

Here, the chili can be as versatile as you want it to be! Ground beef, ground chicken or turkey work really well. Vegetarian? No problem, add soy “beef” crumbles… or skip the meat component completely! In this version, I’ve sauteed bite size pieces of kale and added corn and peas. Add beans and you’re all set!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If Cincinnati Chili is your most favorite food in the world and it doesn’t look like my recipe, Please don’t crucify me for bastardizing it! We can all get along 🙂

Cincinnati Chili with Kale, Corn and Peas

Cincinnati Chili with Kale, Corn and Peas

Makes 8 portions


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced

1 pound lean ground beef (or turkey, chicken, soy crumbles)
10 ounce bag of fresh kale, cut into small pieces, thick stems removed
2 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, Tuttoroso or similar
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder (add more if you prefer spiciness!)
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup frozen corn
2 15 ounce cans of beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup hot water (optional)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound of spaghetti (or GF pasta), cooked and drained
Shredded Cheese


1. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed large pot on medium heat.

2. Add onion and saute until softened, about 4 minutes.
3. Add kale and saute until it has completely wilted about 6 minutes.
4. Add beef, saute until no traces of pink remain.
4a. Optional: Transfer to a colander to drain. Wipe out the pan and return it to medium heat. 
5. Return the ground beef to the pan.
6. Add tomatoes and dried seasonings to pot. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a simmer.
7. Add corn, peas and beans to pot and mix.
8. Optional: Add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of hot water if the chili is too thick for you preference.
9. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
10. Turn down heat to low and cook for at least 15 to 20 minutes. If cooking for longer, up to 2 hours, cover pot with tight fitting lid.
11. Divide pasta among bowls and top with chili and some shredded cheese.

Eat, Drink & Be Yummy!