Category Archives: Cooking

The enchantment of the holidays

The holidays are a magical season. Money, resolve and time all disappear faster than you can say “abracadabra” during these short December days. Accepting that what one gets in exchange for those commodities are opportunities to share time and laughter making new memories, it’s a trade I’m happy to make.

This first weekend of my holiday break has been filled with activity – and cookies. Lots of cookies. Friday’s original evening plan had been to revisit Soul Night downtown at Lost & Found. We went last month and really enjoyed the music, vibe and diverse crowd. But, I caught an ad on Facebook for a Funk Night at Savoy, which was easily within walking distance, and it appealed on a cold night. No regrets – DJ Trumastr was on his game as usual and the Manhattans (yes, two) were impeccably crafted. It was a fun night.

Saturday brought another opportunity to stay in the neighborhood, but this time it was DelSo, rather than Center Square. A neighbor’s annual holiday party brought together a wonderful crowd of yogis/educators/creative types who all shared at least one common friend, the hostess, but often the connections between guests exceeded that minimal number. Albany, Smalbany, I love you. Another merry event with lots of laughs.

Sunday it was our turn to host for the first night of Hanukkah. The plan was traditional latkes, soup, salad and a couple of quiches. And cookies, of course. Prep, beyond the task of preparing and frying latkes, was well in hand until minor tragedy struck – or stubbed, as in a broken toe which required medical attention and prevented the potatoes from being transformed into latkes. What to do?

Not actually our latkes. We ate them too fast for photos.

My friend and uber talented chef, Ric Orlando, had shared on FaceBook that New World Bistro Bar was featuring his “Beat Bobby Flay” latkes…hmmm. Why stress when I could place an order and simply stop to pick them up on my way to my sweetie’s house? Done – and no lingering odor of frying at home with which to contend.

While nothing replaces a hot latke out of the pan, Ric’s latkes were wonderful. They’re large and magically manage to be crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and nearly devoid of oil or greasiness. After reheating them on a rack on a baking sheet, everyone happily loaded on sour cream and applesauce and we feasted. Crisis diverted, we enjoyed  a festive evening with lovely people.

I’m  not going to claim that bringing latkes to dinner for the first night of Hanukkah is a miracle or anything, but I believe many would be happier to see a resourceful woman  arriving with award winning latkes, than three “wise” men bearing Frankincense.  I know I would.

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Filed under Albany, Christmas, Cooking, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, Events, Food, friends, holidays, Lark Street, Local, Recommendations, sunday, vacation, winter

So many pancakes, so little time

After not getting around to making a pot of sauce with meatballs and sausage a few weeks ago, I found myself with a container of ricotta cheese for which I needed to find a purpose. After a quick Epicurious search I came up with the perfect use – Ricotta Pancakes.

In my house, we’re big on pancakes. Since being shamed by a foodie friend for using Bisquik, I’ve been making mine from scratch and I actually have the recipe* committed to memory. It’s so easy it makes me regret all those years of paying for a packaged mix filled with all sorts of unpronounceable ingredients. I use the same basic recipe for waffles and play around by adding canned pumpkin and nutmeg or using buttermilk or almond extract to change things up because, like I said, we like pancakes and variety isn’t a bad thing when it comes to breakfast.

But, back to those ricotta pancakes.

The recipe I found was simple and used common ingredients. Separating the eggs and beating the whites into lovely peaks is the second hardest part, with the most challenging thing being finding the ability to stop after eating two. Or three. These pancakes are wonderfully light and airy with orange zest adding a delicious punch. I bet a dash of Grand Marnier would be an amazing addition.

This recipe, along with the NYT’s Dutch Baby recipe, is a keeper. Do you have a favorite pancake recipe I should try?

 

*1 1/4 c flour

2 T sugar

2 t baking powder

1 egg

milk to the consistency you like, more milk = thinner pancakes

dash of salt

maybe a t of vanilla or almond extract?

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Filed under Boys, breakfast, Cooking, Eating, family, favorites, Food, ideas, Recipes, Recommendations

Winds of change

There’s been so much talk this spring about the rain. Many people seem to feel that we’ve had an excessive number of stormy and wet days. Until recently, I believe, there hadn’t been more than an instance or two of our stringing more than three rainless days together since March. Or something like that. Rain doesn’t bother me too much, especially since I’m finally having some necessary work done to my house to ensure it remains dry when it rains. The wind, though, is a different story.

I was thinking about wind and why it makes me uncomfortable and I think it’s because wind is 3-D. I mean, if 3-D is defined as being discernible with three different and unique senses, that is. Is that what 3-D means? Wind is audible, visible and physical, which is kind of a lot, don’t you think? I don’t know if it’s a childhood spent watching The Wizard of Oz every year or what, but wind frightens me. It’s powerful.

It’s going to sound completely ridiculous, but I’ve been working on becoming more comfortable with the wind. For a long time, actually. I know wind and change are partners in moving life along and I’ve gotten better at swaying when in a gust, instead of going with my usual response of digging in and refusing to let go. I’m a work in progress. Mid-gust, shall we say?

One recent change that I’m trying to relax into is the diminishment of family dinner nights. I think it’s more a function of the season than a complete breakdown of family time, so I’m tolerating it. Time will tell, but for now I’m going to cook when I feel like it and continue to make an attempt to prepare meals that can be reheated or repurposed. Case in point, last night’s baked ham with scalloped potatoes and broccoli, became the foundation for a pasta with cubed ham, peas, arugula and grated cheese. Tomorrow I plan to eat some leftover scalloped potatoes with poached eggs. Is it morning yet?

Has the rain or wind impacted your mood? How old were you when your parent stopped regularly cooking dinner?

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Filed under aging, Boys, breakfast, Cooking, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, family, Food, moms, musings, Observations, Spring, upstate New York

More carbs, please

I don’t know what it is, but I can’t stop eating. Carbs are my thing and recently I have been going to town cooking, and eating, pasta. It’s a little too soon to be officially “carb loading” for either of the 1/2 marathons for which I’ve already registered, so I have no excuse other than it tastes good. And I like it.

Last week, I made a spicy bolognese sauce that I thought was delicious, albeit a little meaty. I will definitely riff on that recipe in the future because it was hearty, simple and really easy to put together in a single pan. I love that!

Over the weekend I made a lentil and butternut squash soup that ticked all my current boxes – lentils and orange vegetables. Again, the list of ingredients was reasonable and the prep practically effortless, an ideal combination of circumstances when one is planning lunches for the week. I mean, come on, how great is it to pull out a pint of homemade soup for lunch on a cold day? With a little forethought, you could be living the high lunch life

The more labor intensive culinary project of the weekend turned out to be gnudi. Have you had them before? I think the first ones I ever had were made by Nick Ruscitto and they were delightful. Lighter than gnocchi with a softness that proves the delicacy of their maker’s hands, these ricotta cheese dumplings are pillows of tenderness perfectly finished with the most simple of sauces. I had to make them.

I found a recipe and got busy, draining the ricotta and exploring methods for how to eventually form and cut the gnudi. After chilling the dough, I opted for the long log technique, slicing the log into .75” pieces which I then gently placed in boiling water. Like many Italian recipes I’ve prepared, the challenge is the amount of time required, not necessarily the level of skill of the cook.

I cooked the gnudi in batches, resting uncooked ones on a plastic wrap covered baking sheet and cooling the cooked ones off under in a colander. Eventually I placed all the gnudi into a plastic container and drizzled them with olive oil. I was saving them for Monday’s “meatless” dinner when I planned to sauté them in olive oil and a dollop of bacon fat with mushrooms, onions, garlic and roasted cauliflower.

Mondays can be rough after a busy weekend, but when dinner and multiple lunches are prepared before Sunday officially ends, they’re not so bad at all.

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Filed under Cooking, Dinner, Eating, favorites, Food, ideas, Observations, Recipes, Recommendations, soup, winter

Trader Joe’s – when it’s your first time, you get flowers

I’m about to tell you something you may find surprising…despite my reputation as a bit of a “foodie,” until just a couple of weeks ago I had never been to Trader Joe’s. Truth. I know, I know, they “have the best prepared foods!” and the “produce is fantastic.” I’d heard it all, yet remained disinterested. The Wolf Road location always seemed like a clusterf*ck and I do all right with P Chops, Shop Rite and Honest Weight with the occasional Aldi foray. There really isn’t room in the rotation for another grocery store.

But, when a special friend invites a girl to a wonderful “new” place, she goes, right? And that’s how I found myself on a recent Sunday evening cruising the aisles of TJ’s for the very first time. First impression: we picked a good time to go. The parking lot was more empty than full and the store itself was surprisingly mellow. Despite my intention to merely browse, we had a full sized cart and plenty of time in case I changed my mind.

So, what did I walk out of there with? Although the produce looked good and more fairly priced than I had anticipated, I passed since I had already done my pre-Thanksgiving shopping and was set on fruits and veggies. The cheese and meats cases held my attention and I was unable to resist the sliced German smoked ham, at $3.99 for 4 oz it gave me a cheap olfactory trip to my Opa’s house in the Black Forest. Also in the cart were 2 bags of frozen potstickers (chicken and pork at $2.99 each), 2 bags of frozen seasoned corn (haven’t tried them yet), a bar of goat’s milk soap for my weirdo son who wanted goat’s milk, a large bottle of all-in-one shampoo/conditioner/body wash (just trying to cover the bases for my 12 y/o!) and 6-pack of something the guy selected. There might have been another item or three, but I honestly can’t remember – except, of course, for the sweet bouquet of flowers I received once our check out dude learned that it was my very first visit. Nice touch.

The takeaway – there were some cool things and most items were less expensive than I had anticipated. Am I going back? Well, if the fella asks again, of course! But, seriously, I do like the size of the store and the items I’ve purchased and sampled. There was definitely some other stuff that I’d be game to try, but I’m not in a big rush to go back. It’s kind of the same way I feel about places like Marshall’s – when I’ve got some extra time and money, I’m game to recreationally browse.

How about you? Are you a regular at Trader Joe’s? What should I get next time?

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Filed under Albany, Cooking, Food, Uncategorized

Getting schooled at Cafe Capriccio

C407CADB-0DA3-41F5-808A-FC99748F03B1.pngI’ve been a devotee of Grand Street’s Café Capriccio for so very long that if I had a sip of Chianti to match each wonderful memory I’m lucky enough to have created there…well, I’d be pretty damn drunk. I’ve experienced just about every type of event imaginable in this incredibly cozy space – romantic date, girls’ night, Mother’s Day, countless dinners at the bar, chef’s table parties upstairs, significant birthdays, a bridal shower, musical performances, a psychic reading, pre-concert meals, staff holiday dinners and after hours dance parties*. I won’t say that each and every visit to the Café has been stellar, but I can count the disappointments on a single hand and when you’re talking about 25 years’ worth of dining, well, that adds up to a pretty solid history.

A couple of Mondays ago, I added a new experience to my Capriccio memories – Cooking School. I had tried to register for classes in the past but had been shut out, as they’re limited to a dozen attendees and fill up quickly.  A friend and I jumped on the opportunity quickly this time and successfully landed a couple of spots at the table. Our menu:

img_3262Beans and greens – made with Franco Rua’s house cured pancetta, broccoli raabe, white beans, garlic and hot red pepper flakes.

Salad of chicory and endive tossed with tomatoes, celery, onion, oil and vinegar

Pasta with Italian canned tomatoes, house made guanciale, cheese

img_3263Lamb chops – pan seared and finished in the over, served with a pan sauce of anchovy, garlic, rosemary

Walnut torte

I may have forgotten a few ingredients in the above dishes (it was 2 weeks ago!), but I won’t forget how much fun the night was. The group seated around the table was convivial, friendly and definitely interested in cooking, food and travel. While we didn’t actually participate in the preparation of the meal, it was a very casual evening and guests were certainly welcome to move around and get as close to the action as they desired. Service was excellent and the flow of wine (the Palladio Chianti was delish) was bountiful, a couple of classic Capriccio features I always have appreciated. The Ruas know how to run a restaurant and have never been miserly with their stories or knowledge and  I’m very much looking forward to getting more educated in 2018.

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Filed under Albany, Cooking, Dinner, drinking, Eating, favorites, Food, Local, Recipes, Recommendations, Restaurants, Wine

Time is short

I’ve been so busy doing things and going places that I haven’t had a moment to chronicle any of it. It’s kind of getting me frustrated, but that’s how I typically react to not having what I want – in this case more time. I’ve made some notes and I swear I’m going to carve out some time over Thanksgiving break (See what I did there? Carve??) to share things that I’ve seen (an 80s band, some television and a couple of movies), a couple of books that I’ve recently read, some delicious things I’ve enjoyed eating and drinking, a week focused on health maintenance, and a couple of Albany experiences that I was lucky enough to take in. Stay tuned.

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