Heirloom Tomato Salad with Black Garlic and White Balsamic

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Black Garlic and White Balsamic

Eric Ripert, like most of the chefs who end up as judges on Top Chef, intimidates the hell out of me, mainly because he and his restaurant Le Bernadin in New York embody the word “flawless” in the way that few chefs and restaurants can. Simply thinking of the season 5 episode of Top Chef in which the cheftestants visit the restaurant, have an amazing meal there, and then are tasked to recreate a dish they had enjoyed makes my stomach churn with anxiety to this day. I mean, this is the place that employs a guy whose job it is to properly break down whole fish, and he’s so good at it that when he goes on vacation, two people are required to handle the volume of fish he portions by himself and it’s still not enough to meet the demand.

Eric Ripert demands excellence and embodies it on a daily basis, and the rest of us are merely along for the ride. Read More

Smoked salmon and ricotta wraps

Smoked salmon and ricotta wraps

New Year’s Eve is my favorite food holiday, full stop. We don’t have to follow any specific food traditions, and instead we can make a number of small bites that follow whatever whims we may have in mind that particular year. In reality, the only rules that we do have around the holiday are simple:

  • No leaving the apartment, even to do this same thing at someone else’s house, because that never ends well.
  • Loungey clothes are necessary, if not required.
  • Games will be played
  • Wine, especially bubbly wines, will be consumed.

When our friend W asked what our plans were, I explained that we were pretty rigid on the not-leaving-the-apartment thing (seriously, the last time we tried to do this on New Year’s Eve, I ended up with a stomach virus) but that they were welcome to join us. As soon as she said that they would love to come, out came the cookbooks to brainstorm some ideas on what to make. I may have also put the El Bulli episode of No Reservations on while I browsed, and ultimately came up with more ideas for this dinner than I did for the dinners I was supposed to be planning for…because that’s how things tend to go.

Besides: a meal of this scale requires several days of brainstorming, and I ended up finding some fine meals to have on Sunday and Monday shortly thereafter. So there, husband. Read More

Part of our to-do list in 2014

Part of our to-do list in 2014

We’re in the midst of preparations for our New Year’s Eve celebrations, i.e. our annual evening-long cooking-and-eating fest, but I wanted to drop in and wish everyone a wonderful 2014! The menu tonight is shaping up to be one of our best ever, and because one of my goals for this coming year is writing more here, I’m hoping I’ll be actually sharing it here very soon. Read More

Shrimp with garlic and cava reduction/gambes a l'all amb reducció de cava

Shrimp with garlic and cava reduction/gambes a l’all amb reducció de cava

The last few weeks have not been particularly kind to us here at The Manhattan [food] Project, thanks to a series of injuries, illnesses, and mounting work stress that inevitably comes at the end of the calendar year. While everyone is physically fine (or at least close to it) now, in the last few weeks I had to deal with a husband who had a nasty sinus infection and a father who smacked his head against a curb when he tripped on a slippery ramp in Danbury during a weekend visit. (They are both fine now, but I feel like my sanity was hanging by a thread there for a while.) Even before all of that excitement I had been feeling discouraged, frustrated, and uninspired, and had it not been for an email exchange with a lovely reader, I’d be a lot crankier right now because I wouldn’t have this dish, straight from La Boqueria, in my repertoire. Read More

GIft Ideas 1 2013

(Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

With the gifting season in full swing (Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate!), one of the most frustrating things I tend to encounter in shopping for gifts is finding things that stick to a certain budget. My team at work, for example, tends to stick to a $20 limit for its gift exchange, and it’s difficult to think of things that satisfy the following gift criteria that I have in my head:

  1. Relevancy
  2. Practicality/usefulness
  3. Unexpectedness (as in, it should satisfy the above two and also be a genuine surprise, if possible.)

So I’m going to share some of the things I really like and/or purchased and some of the things I think would make awesome presents for those who you want to provide something nice, but something useful. Read More

Fontana della Bollente, Acqui Terme, Alessandria.

Fontana della Bollente, Acqui Terme, Alessandria.

Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

–Don Draper, “The Wheel,” Mad Men

It’s appropriate, I suppose, that I write this on the same day my madeleine mold tray arrived in the mail, if for the classic literature reference alone. But today isn’t one for cakes to be dipped into tea; no, it’s for listening to Nino Rota’s score for La Dolce Vita for the umpteenth time, and maybe drinking a nice glass of Barbera d’Asti with dinner. It’s about figuring out where in Stamford I can find the freshest eggs possible to make myself a plate of delicious carbornara and portioning out what is likely the last of the sage leaves from my balcony plant for some veal saltimbocca.

You see, our friend and innkeeper during our stay in Acqui Terme has formally announced that she and her husband are in the process of selling their B&B, and while I had a feeling that something like this was going to happen sooner rather than later, the finality of the news struck me with an overwhelming sadness that even threw me off-guard. We visited them just over five years ago on our honeymoon and spent an idyllic week there, walking around the northern Italian countryside, cooking little meals in their gorgeous kitchen, trespassing in their neighbors’ vineyards, and exploring the spa town that was a few kilometers down the hill from their property. I’ve written snippets about our trip over the years, but like most of our travels that have particularly resonated with me, I can never bring myself to write more than a few words at a time about how the trip affected me.

Forgotten Nebbiollo grapes.

Forgotten Nebbiollo grapes.

To be honest, I’ve struggled to understand this since-growing reticence of mine to write at length about these experiences, either here or even in my private journal; I mean, I’d assume I’d be just as quick to want to capture the words that described everything I’d seen and tasted and experienced in a place just as much as I whipped out my camera to photograph seemingly everything in sight while I was there. But I think there’s something to be said for not putting it to page, however private that page may be, because then perhaps once it’s released from the depths of both the heart and the mind, the urge, the yearning to revisit those feelings in person again could go away.

Or maybe I’m afraid of putting the experience into words lest they cause that experience to plummet from the profound into the trite. Isn’t that what can hurt about nostalgia the most—that our memories, no matter how fond we are of them, aren’t that special after all upon closer examination? Read More

Oregano Pesto with Chicken Thighs

Oregano Pesto with Chicken Thighs

Welp. Well, I guess it’s really fall, even if the temperatures have crept close to the 70s a few days ago, and threaten to do so later this week. You know how I know this? The darkness has been making a hasty return sooner and sooner every day, and as someone who lives in the Northeast and prefers taking pictures of my food in natural light, I hate it. So please bear with me as I once again readjust to the awful artificial light in our apartment. Clearly, I will never take this transition well.

One of the few bright spots about this transition to colder weather is feeling the need to take the shears to my pots of herbs while they are still lush and vibrant. My oregano plant has been left to its own devices all season and has gotten positively unruly; because it’s considered to be really strong in taste, the only amount I’ve needed to use are a few sprigs here and there in recipes all summer. I despaired of finding a proper way to dispatch of it until I found this lovely pesto recipe from Saveur, which called for one and a half cups of packed oregano leaves and only half a cup of basil leaves. A little more than a week ago I trimmed back my plant to make the sauce to pour over pasta, and the results were not only really satisfying, but this pesto felt more autumnal compared to the ones I’ve been making all summer. Read More

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