Category Archives: Food

My first focaccia


B195A6C6-71CE-4356-8AE6-69EADC0DCEFCTwenty-five years ago I went to Italy for the first time. It was my honeymoon and we intended to spend a couple of days in the Lake Como area as part of our five week trip. We were about 2 weeks into our vacation, having already visited rainy Ireland and soggy Germany, when we drove into Lake Como under foggy skies.

It’s hard to recall what made this scenic city feel unwelcoming, but we made the decision to stay in the car and keep driving.  I remember we committed to not getting out of that damn car again until we found sunshine. Three hours later, under sunny skies, we hit Genoa.

The next few days contained some of the most memorable moments of our honeymoon. We had a couple of fantastic meals, were eaten alive by mosquitos and discovered Pigato, still one of my favorite white wines. When we eventually left Liguria to rendezvous with friends in Switzerland, we were sunkissed and happy.

As we departed, we stopped for bread, cheese and tomatoes to make lunch on the road during our drive north. The aroma of the still warm bread filled the car as we drove away from the bakery and proved to be irresistible. We tore into it, our hands and mouths becoming shiny from the olive oil which had been brushed over the top of the loaf. There were deep dimples in the loaf which became wells for rosemary and salt and the dough had been baked to an ever so slight chewiness. It was the best bread I had every eaten – and my first ever focaccia.

It seems that many home bakers, during our current time of forced isolation, are exploring bread baking and I’ve heard about shortages of both flour and yeast in local stores. A friend of mine has been teaching her social media followers how to make and feed their own sourdough starter, a project I’ve never attempted. I’m more a no-knead girl and have used Mark Bittman’s recipe with great success over the years.

When I saw this recipe in the April 2020 issue of Bon Appetit, it immediately called my name. “Shockingly easy?” Yes, please. I’d like to make that. After consulting with my baker friend, I tested the yeast I’ve had in my refrigerator for at least 3 years and was happy to see it was still alive. Time to get busy.D84604E7-2845-4528-8EAD-45D295804B53


I prepped the dough on Friday and placed it in the fridge for an overnight rise. When I pulled it out the next morning, it seemed to have just about doubled, so I continued with the recipe. About 4 hours later, following the directions, I got my hands into the dough a bit, stretching it to completely fill the rimmed baking sheet. The texture was surprisingly silken and poking my fingers into the dough was incredibly satisfying. Excitedly, I dusted salt and fresh rosemary over the dough and slid it into the oven for 25 minutes.

Once out of the oven, there was a final basting of butter* and grated garlic and my first focaccia was complete. It may not have been exactly like the one I greedily ate all those years ago, but I could not have been prouder of the result. Make this!

BDCC4EB3-51BA-4F86-A385-91D35B909848*I used a combination of butter and olive oil.

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Filed under baking, Food, ideas, Italy, Recipes, Recommendations, road trips, Spring, travel

C-ing past Corona

0DB47822-785B-4765-87CE-FB02C5144FA6I don’t know about you, but I’m getting more than a little overwhelmed by the constant barrage of CoronaVirus related news. I’m feeling anxious and isolated and sort of cast adrift as I struggle to figure out how to do my job from home.

While I’ve been escaping with live streamed yoga classes, professional Zoom meetings and binge watching Sex and the City, it isn’t enough. For the rest of my waking hours, irregular as they may be, there are two C words beyond Corona that are occupying my time – cooking and cleaning.

Since grocery shopping is such an ordeal these days and we’re encouraged to remain at home, I’ve been trying to cook out of my pantry and my crisper drawer. Last night’s meal nicely capitalized on what I happened to have on hand – broccoli rabe, chickpeas, canned tomatoes and an open container of veggie stock.

Now, if you look at this NYT recipe you might notice that it doesn’t actually call for broccoli rabe, listing kale instead, but this is very much a recipe that one can modify according to whim or ingredients available. My take on it, after reading some of the comments on the NYT website, doubled the chickpeas and used the liquid from the canned tomatoes and veggie stock instead of water. I also tossed in a Parm rind for some added flavor and increased the crushed red pepper by a generous extra pinch.

DB984C4F-F9E3-4D70-BEEA-684206D4BAEDServed with grated cheese, it was a cheap and healthy dinner with the bonus of being delicious.

Cooking the Pasta e Ceci  was easy and satisfying – just like some of the recent home projects I’ve taken on. Since I frequently find myself wandering from room to room in my house, I’ve done a fair amount of organizing and weeding of items that I’m prepared to eliminate from my home. There’s been quite a bit of dusting also and I actually removed the three milk glass sconces from my bathroom light fixture and gave them a good washing. I learned that they are in fact not milk glass. They were just really dusty.

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On the menu for the upcoming week – Asparagus Pork Stir fry, cleaning the ceiling fans, and moderating my news consumption. How about you?

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Filed under Albany, Cooking, DelSo, Dinner, Food, ideas, News, Observations, Recipes, Recommendations, Spring, stress, upstate New York

When culinary worlds collide – Peking Duck Mac and Cheese at New World Bistro Bar

Mashed potatoes aside, mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food in my world. When I make it at home, I consider it an emptying-of-the-cheese -drawer exercise, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy in multiple ways. (I hate wasting food.) The randomness of the cheese selections means it may never quite taste exactly the same twice, but believe me, it’s always good.

While consistency may not be my personal strength, chef Ric Orlando has been hitting it out of the proverbial ballpark for decades. I can’t think of another person (except maybe Dimitrios at City Beer Hall) who has so successfully merged seemingly disparate cuisines into fantastic and memorable dishes. Thai and Italian? IRC’s done that. Traditional dish with an ingredients twist? Of course!

For the recently held Mac & Cheese Bake Off at Keegan Ales, Ric combined two of my favorite dishes – Peking Duck and Mac & Cheese into a dynamite skillet of deliciousness. I dropped in on Tuesday night to sample the dish and was very happy to have had the opportunity to make a meal out of this small plate which satisfied two cravings with each forkful. Three, if you count bullshitting with Nick at the bar.

Served piping hot in a cast iron vessel, the plate was a delight of creamy, crunchy goodness with lovely and tender slices of duck hidden beneath toothsome noodles, mung bean sprouts and chopped scallions. There were also swirls of hoisin (plum?) sauce and gorgeous buttery breadcrumbs, making this a perfect marriage of many flavors taken from two very different and individual cuisines.

The dish was a special Tuesday, (3/3/20), so call ahead or check NWBB’s website for availability. At $12 it was a bargain, paired with a glass of wine it was a meal. Can’t get enough of Mac and Cheese in all its glory?   Here’s your chance to sample more delectable variations this weekend – and raise some $$ for a good cause.

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Filed under Albany, Cooking, Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Dinner, Eating, favorites, Food, Local, Recommendations, upstate New York, winter

When flying south flies out the window

Last night I should have been settling in to my second cocktail of the weekend with the sound of waves in my ears and the scent of salt water filling my nostrils. Instead, I was cozied up on the couch wrapped in a cashmere robe with more holes in it than my aborted weekend plans, watching yet another episode of Sex Education…what is it that they say about the best laid plans?

I initially booked a quick trip to Florida as a chance to see friends and get a dose of vitamin D. I had enough JetBlue points for a free ticket, multiple options for places to stay and plenty of people whom I love and enjoy spending time with. A $100 rental car would cover my three days and provide me with the independence to come and go as I please. Seemed pretty ideal.

Admittedly, the fact that I forgot my son’s birthday took a bit of shine off the weekend, but he was okay with it and his present was on track to be delivered precisely on his birthday. I was covered.

As the weather report evolved and Friday afternoon seemingly became the absolute worst imaginable time to fly with mixed precipitation and wild winds, I started getting concerned about my ability to get out of town. I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and settled in at the gate to wait. That’s when things took a bad turn.

Our plane had been unable to land in Albany due to weather conditions and had been diverted to JFK to refuel. We were going to be delayed. I started thinking about arriving in Fort Lauderdale closer to 9:30 instead of 8:20. Next we heard our plane from JFK couldn’t take off because of weather conditions in NYC. Our expected departure time changed again. I called my car rental company to talk about a later pick up time.

Phones in the waiting area chimed again – our flight was going to be further delayed. I approached the check in desk to ask about cancelling my ticket, and having my points returned to me, and was advised to call the 800 number to speak with someone who might be able to help me.

The expected departure time changed again – best case scenario had the flight arriving in Fort Lauderdale close to midnight. The car rental office closed at 12:30, making that an uncomfortably tight transition for me. I called JetBlue and was completely satisfied with their willingness to cancel my ticket and refund my points to use another time. I made a couple more calls, notifying friends and cancelling the car rental.

I retrieved my car from the valet and decided to treat myself to dinner, craving anything that would go well with a glass of rich red wine. I drove towards Yono’s but, upon seeing the marquee at The Palace, realized that getting in an hour before Cheap Trick hit the stage wasn’t likely. I crossed Lark St. thinking I would finally try the cacio e pepe at 288 Lark Wine & Tap, but just felt the need to be closer to home. Nicole’s it was.

I settled in at the bar with a menu and the capable Logan in attendance, He poured me a gorgeous glass of Valpolicella and I eventually selected the fried artichokes and a half order of pappardelle with a hearty beef short rib ragu. It was exactly the kind of meal a snowy February night demanded.

I heard familiar voices from the dining room and was really happy to see some folks that I’ve known since the McGuire’s heyday. We caught up and shared a few laughs. It might not have been Florida, but it still felt pretty warm to me.

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Filed under Albany, birthdays, Eating, Food, friends, Lark Street, snow, stress, travel, upstate New York, vacation, Wine, winter

Thoughts I’ve been thinking

  • It sucks that my knee is injured and I can’t fully do the active things I enjoy doing. I see a surgeon in early February and my only question will be: In your experience, what is the most successful plan of treatment for women in my age and activity range who are most interested in being able to resume normal activities (even at a modestly modified level) in the speediest fashion?  That’s my bottom line. I want to run.
  • There were two articles which really spoke to, and for, me recently.  There are things in life which will forever cause me to shake my head, sometimes in a nod and other times in “no.” Both of these NYT pieces made me forget to breathe. I can only link to one because they other one, “I Quit a Seven-Year Affair,” has been removed from the Times’ site.* I’m not sure how I feel about that move, but the piece did remind me of Mrs. Maisel’s choice to share as much about Shy Baldwin as she did in her performance at the Apollo. I knew there would be repercussions.
  • For god’s sake can we leave Megan and Harry alone? They’re entitled to their one precious life, too and Harry’s already seen how an uncivilized society can kill a woman he loves. Who cares how they choose to live?

  • Speaking of caring, there’s so little of that in the world right now. This recent picture of an absolutely beaming Megan Markle walking with her baby and dogs, collected some heated comments about Megan’s son not being safely fastened in his front carrier. Everyone had something critical or nasty or judgmental to say and no one simply offered to help her accomplish the task. We’re moms. We need to be nicer to each other.
  • At a just-turned-green light, I hesitated prior to shifting into first gear and the man in the big truck behind honked his horn and then pulled into the left lane to pass me, giving me the finger as he jerked his vehicle in front of me. I shrugged. Whatever. As we approached Fuller Road, I moved into the right hand turn lane and, again, he aggressively yanked his truck partially in my path. I’d be afraid to witness his response to something beyond a too slow start at a green light.
  • This morning, J, shared a story about some kids pulling a Ding-Dong Ditch which resulted in the deaths of three teenagers. The home owner whose bell was rung, felt the need to pursue these kids at high rates of speed prior to ramming his vehicle into theirs and forcing them off the road and causing them to crash. What is the matter with people? Why are folks overly reactive to minor transgressions, yet numb to the way our government is broken? Is it an assertion of control in a world which feels increasingly unspun. Or maybe it’s actually overspun. 
  • In the last week I was recognized by a reader I had never met (Hi P!) in a really complimentary way and told at an event a few nights later that I looked like Emma Stone.  That’s a good week right there.
  • I read a book this week and can’t stop thinking about, Free Lunch by Rex Ogle. I’m working on a full post.
  • I can’t imagine a better Friday night than a winter one spent at Cafe Capriccio eating eggplant, drinking red wine and hearing a set of quality live jazz.
  • Happy Chinese New Year.  It’s the Year of the Rat, but, honestly, isn’t that what we’ve been living with for the last three years?
Let’s all make the best of it, shall we?
*maybe you can find it in print somewhere?

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Filed under aging, Albany, Books, Eating, Exercise, Food, Librarians, Local, love, medical, moms, musings, News, Observations, politics, relationships, running, secrets, television, winter

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