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The most impact…

June 5, 2012

The most impactful pizza experience I’ve had yet took place in the hot & humid back room of a pizzeria in a small town in Cilento, surrounded by half a dozen Italian family members running their business as they do every night – the Classic Italian Old School Pizzeria.

It was living a twilight-like dream. There was the Grandmother, calling the shots & dressed in a white cap & olive green dress, with twice the energy of her grandson (who she introduced us to — he’s sixteen & single in case you were wondering). There was the grumpy “baker,” heaving round disks of dough covered in fine toppings into an old-school large flat oven, a tad flustered by this crowd of glassy-eye Americans invading his workplace. There was the proud hotel-owner-turned-pizzeria-family-member-by-way-of-marriage-in-some-kind-of-confusing-very-Italian-way. There were the Aunts & the Customers & the rebellious Niece. The head honcho, who has since passed away, her photo framed in gold & displayed with such pride you can feel it in each sweaty bead that back-oven makes.

It was a joy. & the pizza! Oh, the pizza. If only I hadn’t eaten so much that day. If only I wasn’t stuffed to the gills before making my way to this lovely little place. & yet, & yet, I made the room. I ate the red pepper pie. & the classic margarita. & the artichoke salad pie. It was tough. It was worth it. The Grandmother, the ruler of it all — she had a sparkle in her eye you buy plane tickets to Italy to witness firsthand. Few are so lucky to see women like this in action — commanding the kitchen, force-feeding Americans she met ten minutes earlier as if they were her own blood.

It makes eating all the better. Really, it does.

And this pizza — oh my, how authentic it was! Authentic Italian pizza, in Italy no less. Can you imagine? Thick, doughy, fresh out of the oven. Dense & packed with flavor, rustic & warm.

Travel to Italy. Deal with the schlepping of the luggage. The time zones. The lack of ice. Deal with all of it for this moment, this Grandmother kissing you on each cheek as you leave her family’s ancient pizzeria with your soul filled right up to the brim. Surrender your waistline, ladies. It’s worth it.


The Dinner Party; a Rite of Passage

November 15, 2011

Well, I’ve attended a formal sit-down dinner party hosted by friends. It’s a first. To most I’m sure it seems silly to consider this a “rite of passage” of sorts, but honestly, knowing I’ve reached an age where we can just put together a three-course meal complete with vino has to count for something. Are you with me?

The food was divine. My friend Ben is a fantastic cook, and served as Head Chef for the night, putting together a menu of homemade pies, (chicken & lobster) sautéed broccoli rabe, onion bread, savory rice & even homemade donuts.

We all agreed: the Lobster Pie stole the show. All at once comforting & elegant, the lobster itself was just tender enough, & not at all chewy. The homemade pie crust was just dense enough, just flaky enough, and all around begged the loot of us for seconds. (Please note: Ben schlepped himself to a seafood market to get live lobsters for the pie!) He’s a serious cook. Not sure I’m quite ready to kill a couple of double-clawed sea creatures just yet, but kudos to Ben for making dinner all the better!

He kindly shared his recipe, which I’ve posted down below.

A friend brought her fantabulous edamame-beet-goat cheese salad, & I toted spinach & artichoke dip, hot out of the oven.


The last course: It went out with  a bang – homemade cinnamon sugar donuts! We gave ourselves a few minutes to rest after the main course, then watched as Ben plop pieces of fried dough into a vat of hot oil. My inner foodie was giddy! How I love homemade donuts…He shared this recipe too, stay posted for it!

All in all, it was a great night of food & fun, complete with late-night laughter & plans for future themed dinner parties (murder mystery, anyone?).


Ben’s Lobster Pot Pie, adaptated from The Barefoot Contessa

{All You Need}

1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 large onion)

1/2 cup chopped fennel (1 fennel bulb)

1/4 pound unsalted butter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups fish stock

1 tablespoon Brandy

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup half and half

3/4 pound cooked fresh lobster meat (about 3 medium lobsters)

1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley


3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

8 tablespoons vegetable shortening

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water or heavy cream, for egg wash


Saute the onions and fennel with the butter in a large saute pan on medium heat until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flour and cook on low heat for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, Port, salt, and pepper and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add the half and half.

Cut the lobster meat into medium-sized cubes. Place the lobster and parsley in a bowl. Pour the sauce over the mixture and check the seasonings. Set aside.


Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the lard and butter and pulse 10 times, until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out on a floured surface and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the dough in half and roll out each half to fit a 9 or 9 1/2-inch round by 2-inch high ovenproof glass or ceramic baking dish. Place 1 crust in the dish, fill with the lobster mixture, and top with the second crust. Crimp the crusts together and brush with the egg wash. Make 4 or 5 slashes in the top crust and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Thanks for Stopping By!


Hanging with the Food People

November 7, 2011

On Sunday afternoon I made my way to the Washington Convention Center for the Metropolitan Cooking Show. Didn’t really know what to expect, seeing as it was my first food show. Metro Cooking boasted over 300 vendors, (i.e. 300+ free samples) a string of Food Network Stars (who cost far too much to see…I opted for a general admission ticket – no Paula for me), a cookware coated Christmas tree, & a guy in a turkey suit.

 {glimpse of paula from afar} 

Picture a massive room filled to the brim with cooking demos, cookware, & cooks. My friend & I showed up with goals to divide and conquer the room one free sample at a time, but by our third hour of grazing, my friend admitted he’d actually gotten sick of eating! I disagreed…but just barely.

What I ate (and enjoyed):

As I’ve already mentioned a dozen times, these cooking shows offer loads & loads of free samples. Primarily loads & loads of dips – Barbecue flavored, five-spice blended, mayo based, oil based. Dips were everywhere! I guess I was a sucker, ended up buying a few mixes from Heavenly Dips, their Memphis Ranch and Bacon Horseradish being the most notable. Feeling a dip-centric dinner party in my future…


Also fell in love with these edible flowers! Yes, these are real-life, garden-grown flowers. They’re crystalized & are the perfect cake topper…it took me a while to realize they weren’t molded from sugar. Such FOOD BEAUTY.

Another interesting food: CaviArt. Think caviar, but without the fish eggs. What? Yep, it’s made from different types of seaweed. Interesting stuff…

Also grabbed this holiday herb trio! The plants were only a dollar apiece, and have livened up my windowsill quite a bit!


I was happy to see the event had a few gluten-free vendors!

Thanks for stopping by!


Hazelnut Banana Bread Pudding

November 1, 2011

Not too long ago I faced a few aging bananas resting on my kitchen counter, & decided to make a good ole’ loaf of banana bread. The bread was good, hearty, & best after spending a few minutes in the toaster. But I made too much.

Then I got to thinking…how about making bread pudding with my leftover b bread?

What to do with old bananas: Round II. 

Bread pudding is a go-to favorite. The best versions tend to have raisins, (though this one doesn’t) & the most supreme batches are served warm. Since Banana Bread is a type of bread in it’s own right, why not replace the stale white bread with a naner-packed loaf?

Plus, it has fruit in it, so I’m thinking a slice is practically a must for good health. Agreed?

The results were good. Serve-at-a-dinner-party good. Eat-after-everyone-else-is-sleeping good.

A friend & I celebrated Halloween over a couple of slices hot-out-of-the-oven. All at once warm, banana-y, sweet, I’ll say Trick-or-Treating’s got nothing on this stuff.

{A Little History}

Bread Pudding has been a presidential favorite many a time. FDR, John Adams & John Tyler raved about the stuff. In fact, Martha Washington’s own Booke of Cookery & Booke of Sweetmeats has an entire section devoted to various puddings, and was a big fan of bread pudding herself. One suspects her husband felt similarly.

So eat presidentially and make your own! 


You’ll need:

About 3/4 loaf Banana Bread, cubed into 1 inch pieces

3/4 Cup Hazelnut Half & Half

1 3/4 Cup Milk

3/4 Cup sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp cinnamon

1 banana, chopped

Grease square baking pan (an 8 incher works great). Toast Banana Bread Pieces. Combine milk, half & half, sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon. Place about half of the banana bread pieces in pan, cover with chopped bananas. Pour half of milk mixture. Top with remaining bread, & pour remaining milk mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Serve hot!

Thanks for Stopping By!


Chipotle travels East

October 24, 2011

The folks behind Chipotle, to whom I owe many a good burrito bowl, have come up with something new: Southeast Asian fare in the just-safe-enough-an-American-will-eat-it variety.

People, it’s good. Really good.

They’ve opened just one location, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen (lucky for me, it’s in DC) and in my three trips thus far, the lines have been just bearably long. My first time there I ordered two entrees. Couldn’t help myself. Thank goodness for friends who don’t judge…

The thing to order at Shophouse: a Banh Mi sandwich. These Vietnamese sandwiches are typically filled with meat and pickled veggies, then topped with a spicy chili sauce.

The good people at Shophouse have stayed pretty close to the real-deal, offering hearty sandwiches with assorted meat fillings, the very best being their Pork & Chicken meatballs. These babies are lightly fried, perfectly seasoned, & deservedly moist. The signature Shophouse Green Papaya Slaw is a fantastic accompaniment, lightening up the dish & adding tons of color.










Banh Mi, meet French Dip: I’ve taken to ordering a side of Green Curry for the sandwich, which makes for an awesome dipping sauce.










My other order — a noodle “bowl,” filled to the brim with a bunch of good stuff I selected from dozens of food-filled stainless steel containers (you can really see the Chipotle-roots here). Ordered mine with the popular chilled rice noodles, a mix of grilled chicken & steak, long beans, & green curry (they also make a Spicy Red Curry that truly is SPICY, even for jabanero-afiscionados). Topped my bowl with a handful of herbs & a dash of Toasted Rice.

The bowl is good enough. It is a solid meal, all at once filling & flavorful. Still, not a show stopper. That dash of toasted rice, however, is a fantastic; it’s texture crisp while vaguely nut-like. A very cool condiment. If anyone reading knows where I can buy a whole bag of the stuff, do tell!

Toasted Rice (on far left

If you’re in the DC area, I recommend giving this place a shot. If you’re anywhere else, perhaps you’ll be luck & the DC Guinea Pig will take off to a Location Near You.

Thanks for stopping by!


An Apple A Day

October 16, 2011

Keeps the doctor away, yes? To celebrate the season I used about 8 for this Falltastic pie — I’m hoping to be in good health for awhile.

I’d never made an apple pie until this weekend. Of course I’ve eaten the assorted variations – Dutch, All-American, Crumble, Applesauce, German – but I cannot decide which to love most.

I know I’m a crisp apple fan. None of that ultra-gooey, over-cooked apple stuff for me. But when finally making my very own apple pie, deciding exactly which version to go with was a little overwhelming. (Ok, I may be going overboard here.)

A bit bewildered  by creative pie-spinoff recipes on some of my favorite food blogs, I opened  the bible of my kitchen, my Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and looked at good ole’ Fannie’s recommendation. Page 541. It was for me. Simple, sweet, but not too sweet. Americana at it’s finest. Apple Pie.

But about that crust — Ms. Farmer’s recipe calls for shortening. Shortening is just one of those things I’ll never have laying around. & I abhor trips to the market just for that one little ingredient. So back to the internet for me, in search of the perfect pie pastry to match the perfect pie filling. Settled on Simply Recipe’s “Perfect Pie Crust,” though I did add quite a bit more sugar to my dough.

Once the dough was made, (which took awhile, since I used my blender, a tool I discovered is not at all meant for handling flour & butter) I grabbed those 8 apples & began to peel.

& peel. & peel.

It’s rather relaxing, apple peeling. As each red ribbon fell from its core, I’d notice an occasional overlooked bump or bruise. But alas, fruit pie is all-forgiving, & those little imperfections did nothing but add character to my own 3.141592.

Once the Yorks and Galas were cored & sliced, the crispy little guys were bathed in cinnamon, flour & sugar, & thrown into my mighty “pie” pan. The pan, admittedly, is a little deep for pie, so in reality I guess I was going for a Dutch-Apple-meets-All-American kind of thing.

As I was rolling out the top crust, I remembered the little pastry wheel buried in the depths of my single kitchen drawer. Took literally everything out of the kitchen in an effort to find it, & just before I gave up, there it was! My mini wheel with a crimped design would make this pie into a beauty.

I read Fannie Farmer’s tips on making a Lattice Crust, & found the instructions to be surprisingly simple. I’ve come to believe theory & practice to be vastly different principles (yes, even in the kitchen), but in this case, Fannie was right. It’s surprisingly simple to do, really. Just weave the strips in and out, over each other, & you’re in business. Pie crust dough is strong enough to handle a wee bit of manhandling, so all went well, & the Lattice came to Life.

I baked it for 40 minutes (5 minutes less than reccommeneded- like I said, I like a crisp apple).

Thrilled with the outcome. It’s a great pie. Hearty, sweet but not too sweet, simple, basic. Fall.

Perhaps you’ll be inspired to make your own!

Thanks for stopping by!


Blessings, Taste Buds: Buttermilk Biscuits

September 25, 2011

Oh how I love me a warm, flaky biscuit. Something so innocent about a biscuit, so Little House on the Prairie.

You genuine biscuit aficionados out there know the little guys should only be eaten warm, ideally right out of the oven.

A naked biscuit is just a sin to its kind. Butter & Jam. Orange Blossom Honey. Clotted Cream. Whipped Cream. These delicate, specialists of condiments are absolute musts in my (biscuit) book.

So now you know I adhere to a semi-religious biscuit eating standpoint. Therefore, you can understand my joy when I found The Homesick Texan’s fantabulous biscuit recipe the other day. It’s got just six ingredients, & is so simple & easy to make! After reading her post I just had to break out my mixing bowl and give them a try.

The whole process went really well. I mixed my dry, added my wet, kneaded, rolled, folded, cut, placed, baked. Then, Ate. (The verbs of building a biscuit.) The folding over part gives the biscuit two layers of goodness, & makes it really easy to add jams & jellies right in the middle. The very best of biscwiches.

Another plus? These biscuits freeze really well. I’ve been having them for breakfast (warmed, of course) & they taste nearly as good as when they first came out of the oven! Next time I may even double the recipe to have double the biscuits on hand. Usually I’m all about sharing my kitchenventures with friends, but I’ve been kind of selfish with these guys. Friends have been getting halves, not wholes. Does this make me a bad person?

Or am I just an overprotective biscuit lover?

{Biscuit Recipe} adapted from The Homesick Texan

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter, cold (8 tablespoons)
3/4 cup of buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix dry ingredients. Cut butter into pieces, & work into flour mixture with hands or a pastry blender until it crumb-like. Add buttermilk, mixing until a bit loose and gooey.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface, & knead for 1 minute. Dough should feel smooth and no longer wet. (Sprinkle more flour on the surface if the dough is sticking.)
Roll dough into a ball, & hit it with rolling pin, folding dough half every few hits (see photo). Do this for a few minutes.
Roll out dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, then fold it in half (picture folding over a soft taco).
Using a round cutter (can use a glass or a cup) cut out your biscuits from folded dough.
Place on a greased baking sheet close together (so they rise up not out), & bake for 14 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
Makes 10-12 biscuits.

Thanks for stopping by!