Sunday, August 31, 2014

Making Homemade Gnocchi

Light Potato Gnocchi

It was such a pleasure working on this piece -- and to be able to document a recipe that I have been enjoying my entire adult life.  It was taught to me by a dear friend whose mother emigrated to America from Italy at the turn of the century -- talk about classically authentic!  

So, if you are looking for a light, flavorful gnocchi, try this one: 

Here is what you will need:

5 medium size potatoes 
3 cups 00 flour (you can order online or find at Whole Foods)
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil

This recipe serves four adults, and a couple of kids.  Do not double the recipe, it is better to make 2 separate batches (keeping 1 egg per batch).  

Peel, quater and boil potatoes until they are soft. Run them under cold water to bring temperature down. 

Place the flour onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the middle, add a pinch of salt. This well is very important; it will help regulate the amount of flour that is absorbed into the dough.  Once the moisture threshold is reached, the outlying flour is not used. 

Mash the potatoes (preferably with a ricer) directly into the flour. 

Add the egg and the olive oil and knead together with your hands. Fold flour in from the middle to the outside. It will thicken into a paste and will initially stick to your hands. It will also be somewhat lumpy.  If it continues to stick to hands as you knead, add more flour.  If it's too dry, add more olive oil. 

After kneading for about 2 minutes (the dough should be light to the touch and not too sticky), form the dough into a ball and let it sit (cover with a bowl) for at least a half hour. 

Lightly flour both the work surface and rolling pin and roll out the dough into a flat circle.  
Tip: to keep the dough circular, rotate the dough a quarter turn after each roll. 

Roll dough until it is about an 1/8 inch thick. Cut the dough into even rectangles. 

Using your index and middle fingers, lightly push into the center of the rectangle forming each one into a Cavatelli shape:

Bring a large pan of water to a fast boil, add salt and drop in the gnocchi.  They will sink to the bottom.  When they rise to the top, after 3-4 minutes, the gnocchi are done. 

Add your favorite sauce.  I prefer fresh summer tomato sauce, where seeds and skins have been removed.  Sprinkle freshly grated parmesan. Savor each and every bite: 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Food as Centerpiece

In a Pinch, Just Make it Beautiful! 

Salad as centerpiece!

After spending an absolutely pristine, picture-perfect Saturday at the beach, boogie boarding to soft rolling waves under clear blue skies, we enthusiastically welcomed 6 guests for dinner -- who, pleasantly and surprisingly, brought 6 more!!!  Dinner parties with multiplying guests are not unusual for us, especially at our less formal house by the sea. We almost always cook in excess --  but on this occasion, we were reasonably concerned. 

Umm... not likely to be enough home-made ravioli:

So what do we do?  Put out an immediate FHB alert!!! (family holds back)

Seriously, we just get to work molding what we have into beautiful (and bountiful) food art!!

Aside from making sure there is enough food, it is imperative that the food is presented well, that it's an appetizing spread. There is a saying with market vendors that "unseen is unsold."  This expression aptly applies here...

...first, we take everything out of the refrigerator and lay it out on the counter.  Hidden food treasures are sure to be lurking in the recesses.  Crudites with a yogurt or humus dip can entertain the troops and work as a pleasing centerpiece. It's a win win. 

We look for items that can be quickly made into Bruschetta -- grilled bread that is drizzled with olive oil,  and then a simple, fresh ingredient is spooned on top -- tomatoes, garlic, anchovy, olive paste, beans, etc. It's quick, easy, hearty and of course, pretty!  

Grilled bread plus tomatoes, olive oil, red onion and garlic equals:


I treasure my varied collection of plates aquired from all over the world.  But, often the best way to present colorful food is to lay it out in simple white dishes. This encourages the food to shine.   

While I relish making pies with my own dough, I do not often have enough time, especially in the summer.  So as soon as I arrive home with a store bought pie, I transfer it into one of my French pie ceramics.  I do this by simply turning the pie up-side-down onto a plate, removing the aluminum tin, then placing the pie plate on top and turning the pie back over into the ceramic. 

Not only does the pie look far more appetizing, it also does not produce cringing, scrunching, metal-tearing sounds when cutting. Plus, the dough will not take on a metallic flavor when re-heating.  

A simple wooden bowl of tomatoes looks irresistible if placed in just the right spot (and off topic -- those vibrant dried straw flowers from the farmers market will last for months).

Even a simple grilled cheese sandwich can appear succulent if beautifully plated. 

For this dinner party, I was running low on cheese. But pairing a simple round brie with fruit (champagne grapes and strawberries) is undeniably appealing.  

Placing appertizer plates around the house can liven up any corner.  In this case, I put the cheese plate on a large round table usually stacked with books and collectibles. 

Fruit makes every space look appealing.  Even next to the sink, this bowl of lemons along with some dried spaghetti brightens up a fairly drab space. 

Don't be afraid to decorate a plate with your ingredients.  With this stacked Vietnamese dish, we simply dotted the plate with Sriracha sauce. Guests couldn't believe it! 

For more ideas, check out the following links:

Monday, August 11, 2014

What is #ratchet?? Don't go cray cray! Read this to help you understand...


Every year,  we have the privilege of hosting our now 15 year old niece here in New York.  She travels from Illinois, spends a few days soaking up Manhattan (this year we took a tour of the Gossip Girl locations) and then we all travel out to the eastern Long Island seacoast to enjoy the incredible waves, shopping and an occasional celebrity sighting (it was Chris Martin from Coldplay today).

This visit is a treat for our daughter, and an education for us parents -- we get a glimpse of what's to come when we spend time with our older niece. Here are some of the enjoyable topics we covered with our niece, notice they all involve the electronic universe (and most needed a bit more research):

1. Instagram -
Teens and tweens no longer just take pictures, they now have to help organize them in cyberspace by breaking them down into categories. Thus the  hashtag (#)! By the way,  Instagram is big business, it was bought by Facebook for $1 billion!

This process of photo sharing is actually old news, Facebook has offered $3 Billion (which was declined) to buy this:

2. Snapchat -- (the new Instagram) Perhaps not really intended for anyone college age or younger, this is a photo sharing app with more features than Instagram (eg. you can add a mustache to someone's picture, if desired).  Apparently pictures only need to be viewed for 10 seconds (or less, if selected)!  When discussing this APP, we, of course, presented a vacant look of naivatee...

3. Twitter -- talk about short attention spans -- Twitter allows the shortest sound bite comment imaginable (150 characters or less!).  But it seems everyone is in on it --we can even get twitter feeds from nationally recognized newscasters.

4. Vine -- This appears to be the next big thing -- it is ostensibly the same as Instagram but with videos.

5. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

There is so much to be said about this that I published a separate post last week.

6. Sound Cloud -- Used for music, this is another version of UTube, but the music options are less mainstream.

7. Words --

Person1: Yo, u finna go to Brandon's free tonight?  I hear its gonna to be lit!
Person2: Yeah, I'm tryna get turnt (or, I'm trying to turnup)
Person1: Yaaaaasssss, come thruuu boyy. It's going to be wavy!! I hear ur bae Mariah might be there to...

Huh?  Having a hard time understanding?  Most of the new slang words heard by young people are used in texts/school hallways and are inspired by rap/hip hop lyrics. And many of the definitions of these words are loose and can vary depending on context and feel of the conversation. And when trying to read, throw grammar and punctuation out the window...

Ratchet Was a synonym for low class and now its meaning is getting a makeover thanks to Beyonce and Lady Gaga (SEE links below)

Turn Up Means let's get this party started (i.e. some bottles are going to be turned upside down).

Grind  Doing something difficult.

Bad Usually a reference to woman, meaning she is "good."

Cake  Glutes.

SMH Shaking my head, or --  Oh no you didn't!

Dip Leaving someplace.

Feeling Ways A little upset, range of emotions. "Boyyy, this essay we just got back, its got me feeling ways right now!"

Bae or Boo Cute, hot person that someone finds attractive, or can be a close friend.

Tight Angry -- "got me tight."

GMT Used in texts --Got me tight.

...or Nahh or not.

Finna Can be used both negatively and positively for "trying to."

Wavey Cool.

Cuffed Dating.

Weak Fun/funny. This movie has me weak.

Litt Chill, cool - Boy that party was Litt.

Doe  Is used instead of though.

Dat  Same as that.

Rager  Party.

Cray or Cray Cray - Crazy,  as in... why you acting so cray? She cray cray!

Digits Phone number.

Yute Youth.

Work Doing something to get noticed.

Flex Showing off.

For more word descriptions see:


Always instill a sense that, even a 10 second, here-now, gone-later format can be permanent when published online, and can have long term consequences.

There is no tone in typed communication and perhaps, not in photos either.  Therefore, perception is not always clear to the receiver.  A friend recently put a quote on Facebook that should be considered:

Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.

Watch everything!  Keep up with everything. If your kids are on Facebook, you should be on Facebook.

Turn off the electronics, get out and socialize:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Grilled Chicken Fajitas

Grilled Chicken Fajitas

Move over chicken cutlets!  My family has a new favorite chicken dish -- Grilled Chicken Fajitas. And this time of year, who can disagree.  The secret ingredient: Grapefruit!

If done correctly, Chicken Fajitas are an easy-to-make crowd-pleaser.  And if you follow this recipe, they are low in cholesterol and fat, and are gluten free!

Here is what you will need:

2 Lemons
3 Limes
2 Grapefruits
Chicken Breasts
1 Red Pepper
2 Onions
Pepper Jack Cheese
Corn Tortillas
Hot pepper paste or Jalapeno
Olive Oil

Clean and dry the Cilantro, then chop (or puree) it finely. 
Tip: Once cleaned and dried, Cilantro (and Parsley) leaves can last many weeks if refrigerated in a sealed container. 

Prepare the marinade by juicing lemons, limes, and grapefruit in a large bowl.  Add in 3-4 cloves of finely chopped garlic, a large handful of chopped cilantro, a diced onion, a tablespoon of cumin and a tablespoon of cinnamon. Season with salt, pepper and a little hot pepper paste. 

Rinse the chicken and add it to the marinate.  This citrus marinade works well for a few reasons.  First, it tenderizes the meat and cooks it a bit.  For packaged chicken, the citrus also breaks down the slippery coating on the chicken.  Finally, and most importantly, it adds unbelievable flavor!

  While the chicken is marinating, slice the 2nd onion and red pepper into strips.  If using Jalapeno, chop it into small pieces. 

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a grill pan and saute peppers and onions until soft and slightly charred.   I added hot pepper paste/Jalapeno to this mixture as well as some salt and pepper. 
Take onions and peppers out of saute pan and set aside. 

Add the marinated chicken to the seasoned grill pan.  For thin sliced chicken, grill each side for 3 minutes.  For thicker cuts, grill for 5 minutes on each side.  Keep the marinade...

...and add it to a small grill pan with some olive oil.  Cook it down.

Heat the tortillas in the small grill pan.  Add marinade and olive oil, as needed. 

Slice the cooked chicken. 

Layer the tortillas with chicken, onions, peppers, jack cheese, avocado (you can use guacamole too) cilantro and maybe a little salsa! Fold and savor! 

For larger groups, all of the ingredients can be laid out on the table and guests can make their own! 

Poultry Tips:

If you have a whole chicken and need to take off the breast meat, here are some simple instructions:

Always start by cutting into the legs, where they are attached to the body.  Cut through the bone of both legs and then do the same for both wings, and set them aside.  Then turn chicken over (onto its back) and cut along center bone and slice out breast filets.  Put the bones into the freezer and later use for preparing chicken stocks. 

If your chicken breasts are too thick, do not start by pounding as this can weaken the muscle fibers and release juices. Lay the breasts on a cutting board and carefully (very carefully) slice horizontally/ lengthwise.  Then lightly pound.

When roasting chicken, to test whether it is cooked, pierce a small hole in the thickest meat.  If juices run clear, it is done.  If there is still some pink, it needs a bit more time.  Thermometers also work well!

When cooking chicken and other meats, it is always best to heat the plates that guest will be using.  This can be done by placing them on a rack above the stove while cooking; or into the oven for a few minutes at 200 degrees (or less). Even a slightly warmed plate will help maintain a more savory food temperature.

Special thanks to my dear friend Catherine T Nguyen who helped me with the photography.