Saturday, March 23, 2013

Arthur Avenue Day Trip

For the longest time, I have wanted to make a trip into Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.  I have heard stories about it, good and bad but mostly good.  I was going to write a little story about my day there, but I think I prefer to show instead of tell.

The bottom line is that this is the real Little Italy.  Stores and restaurants are run by Italians and English is heard in about a 50% ratio to Italian.  We went to eat and shop and I have the full belly, bread, scamorza and burrata to prove that we accomplished our mission.

But, as a picture paints 1000 words, on with the show...

I bought that loaf on the right. Frikkin tasty, crisp on the outside and chewy inside. 

Some of the produce looked almost as good as what's in Campo de Fiori.  I said ALMOST.  Still a major compliment.

The cigar roller guy.  Not my cup o' tea.  I think cigars smell like fermented farts and sweaty shoes, but if that's your thing, smoke 'em if you got 'em. 

Seeds from Italy.   I actually bought three packs of these.  I can't keep a ficus alive, but I'm gonna grow my own vegetables from seed.  Delusional? Party of one.

At Cerini  Coffee and Gifts there is an adorable kitty policing the store and sidling up for a scratch behind the ears.
I bought an old school stove top espresso pot here and some of those jelly filled hard candies that every Italian grandmother keeps at the bottom of her purse.  I think it's a law or a birthright or something.

Off to Calandra Cheese Shop to get burrata and scamorza.  

They really shouldn't punish that cheese like that.  It's been so very, very good to me.  I hope this comes close to the scamorza that I had in Sorrento.

Arthur Avenue

A view of the NY Skyline coming over the Throgs Neck Bridge

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mighta choked Artie...

I make a mean Artichoke Dip.  I'm lot even going to waste your time with false modesty because this stuff is the shiz. So I am going to share it.

There are two schools of thought around recipe sharing. - one is to protect your creation at all times so that it builds an artificial anticipation and makes you the only person who can make it; thereby inflating your ego as the minions beg for a meager crust of the deliciousness that only you can create.  The second is to shout it  from the rooftops and share, share, share.  I am of the second school.  Now when I say share, I don't mean steal or republish as your own.  That would be dishonest and I hear that it makes your naughty bits dry up and fall off...and nobody wants that.

So, in the spirit of sharing and the hope that you value your reproductive parts, here's my artichoke dip recipe. It's actually pretty similar to a bunch of other artichoke dips out there, but I have tailored this to soothe my savage palate and it comes out perfect every time. Enjoy.

Artichoke Dip

Oven at 350.
8oz block cream cheese (softened)
1/2 cup mayo
1 clove garlic grated or finely minced
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (Plus 2 tbs on the side for topping)
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese (Plus 2 tbs on the side for topping)
Pinch salt
Fresh grated black pepper (to taste)
1 box frozen artichoke hearts microwaved for 6 or 7 minutes in a covered glass bowl with a tablespoon of water, cooled and chopped

Beat together all ingredients In the order listed. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste.  Spread in a greased baking dish (a pie plate works well) and top with reserved cheese.  Bake for 30 -40 to minutes or until golden and bubbly.  Serve with chunks of crusty bread, crackers  or an old pair of shoes.  It does not matter what you spread it on, that substance becomes exponentially better.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Apple Frangipane Tart - The Palate Goes Down

Your girl stepped out of her baking comfort zone this weekend and learned to embrace a once loathed food.

For as long as I can remember, I have hated almond flavored baked goods.  Almond flavoring factors heavily into many French and Italian sweets in the form of marzipan, almond paste and almond flavoring. Blech is all that comes to mind when I think of these things... or it did at one time.

Fast forward to this weekend... I took a crossant baking class at Sur La Table.  One of the croissants that we were going to be making was almond filled.  I look at the almond paste sitting in the bowl and my sphincter seized.  Do I have to touch that or worse, eat it?

As we began the process of assmembling the almond filling -almond paste, sugar, copious amounts of butter, lemon zest, vanilla, I found myself intrigued by the creamy texture of the filling.  It seemed so rich and inviting.  I wanted to bathe in it.   Strangely enough, the croissants that I most eagerly anticipated were not the chocolate ones, but the almond ones.

The *kitchen bitches pulled the croissants from the oven and assembled them on plates for each baking team.  After the obligatory pictures were taken, I grabbed a golden brown horn of lusciousness and bit into it greedily.  It was heavenly and I was so taken aback by my own lust for it and how insanely delicious it was that I immediately announced to the teacher that she had converted me to an almond paste lover.  She then told me that that very filling is the basis for her Frangipane tart, which is her own favorite sweet.

So I ran home like a good little food geek, almond creme recipe in hand and I sought out a tart shell recipe. I I followed a Williams Sonoma crust recipe that Ifound online, googled Frangipane tart, got the basic idea and assembled one. The result is below.   What it lacks in apple symmetry, it has in taste.

Another victory against my pedestrian palate!

*Please note that the term kitchen bitch refers to the helpers that clean the dishes and help prep for the classes. It is not meant to be negative, it's meant to be dripping with jealousy (distinction here).  How does one get that sweet gig?  I would be a prep monkey for a pastry chef for free if someone offered it to me. Bitches.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Every 7 Seconds

It used to be that when I heard the theory about men thinking about sex every  7 seconds, that I felt incredulous.  How could anyone be so obsessive and out of control of their own thoughts?  I used to think that least I did before I went to Italy.  Ever since my first visit to Bella Italia, I am the proud owner of a once every seven second obsession.

The heart of my obsession is Rome.  The most amazing thing about Rome for me was how, even though I didn't speak the native language and I had no clue how to get around, Rome felt small and homey and easy to understand, almost immediately.  Every subsequent trip after the first, felt even more so.  I think that part of this immediate adoption came front the fact that on all three of my trips, we stayed in an apartment and lived like Romans.  This way of staying in Rome is spacious and relaxed and a bit less expensive than hotel living.  We could shop for groceries, do laundry and drink wine on our terrace, just like the locals.

Based on my personal experience, I like to say that it is virtually impossible to get a bad meal in Rome.  I am sure that there are many that would disagree with that assessment, but I would think that  you'd have to try very hard to to get a bad meal.  If you stay off the main tourist drags and piazzas, there is nothing but goodness.

The last time I left Italy, I sat on the plane and cried.  Leaving Rome is like leaving a lover at the height of a torrid affair.  There is no reason to leave your heavenly union except the earthly obligation of home, family and work.   And as I may or may not  have said after a few glasses of wine, it pained me to return to my job and to the disappointment that I would feel when I learned my boss did not meet a Julius Caesar style fate while I was away.

I wish I knew when my next return trip to Italy will be.  We had hoped to go back this summer, but it does not appear to be in the cards for 2013.   That means that I am going to spend the next 365 + days thinking of Italy some 75085 times.  Good thing I enjoy the subject matter.

Here are some favorite pics from my trips.

Pictures and text are copyrighted. No use without permission, please.

Lamps in a dress shop in Florence.
Gorgeous produce in Campo de Fiori in Rome.
The man, the master, Dario Cecchini in Panzano.
Dario's famous lardo and meats.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Gatto's Got My Tongue

Ever since I made my first trip to Italy in 2010, I have spent a majority of my waking hours thinking about the next time I will return.  I was very fortunate to have have gone back twice since that initial trip.  But like potato chips or if you're Liz Taylor, husbands, there is no such thing as enough.

It's looking like my next trip to the motherland will not be until some time in 2014.  Until that time, I will cook and bake and surf the internet until my head is about to explode with Italian imagery.

Today, I found myself yearning for Campo De Fiori, the market and the neighborhood.  There are several great bakeries in the area. Some make spectacular bread (Roscioli), others make insanely good pizza by the inch (centimeter?) (Forno) and still others make great cookies (Il Fornaio).  Il Fornaio is the bakery that was featured in today's Italian daydream.

Every time that I have visited Rome I have made a stop at Il Fornaio.  I must admit, the thing that initially attracted me was the giant mortadella in an acrylic case at the front door.  It is displayed kind of half in the door and half out, as if it had burst out of the bakery in an attempt to be free of it's carbohydrate laden surroundings.  Freakish imagery aside, the baked goods inside were nothing to run away from.  It was in fact, the first place that ever got Cat's Tongue cookies.

Cat Tongue cookies or Lingue di Gatto are a very simple butter cookie with a crisp exterior, a tiny bit of interior chew and gorgeous brown edges.   Neither overly sweet nor adorned in any way, this cookie may be the best friend a cup of coffee ever had.  Today, my own tongue told me that I had to have some. Stateside, this means - bake 'em yourself, which is what I did.  I found a recipe in Italian here and I fired up the oven. Thankfully, my scale can measure in grams, because I can't. 

Here's how they came out.  A little bit of Rome in every bite.