Tastes of the Week

Nov. 21 through Nov. 28th Sometime last week, when I was very, very hungry, I walked through the food market at Grand Central Station. There lay a bag of the biggest, puffy, onion-topped rolls that made made my mouth water. I regretted not buying them and so returned the next day. Purchased at Zaro's, these small breads are called "onion pockets" but are really more like little loaves of challah topped with bits of caramelized onion. A bargain at $5.99, my family enjoyed them all week long in myriad ways--not least of which was simply toasted, smeared with sweet butter and topped with soppressata.  Strong coffee. Heaven.

It's not my husband's cup of tea to go out for Thanksgiving dinner but we did anyway! We four (with son and daughter) went to the bustling Commerce, located, not unexpectedly, on Commerce Street in the West Village, one of the prettiest blocks in the city. Fabulous food -- roasted sweet potato tortelloni with hazelnuts, pomegranate & beurre noisette, devilled eggs, a wonderful bread basket, delicious moist turkey with all the trimmings, an order of very spicy artisanal spaghetti with 'Nduja sausage, garlic & parsley, and for me as a starter, a "Ragu of odd things: oxtail, trotters and tripe with hand-rolled orecchiette." Not that there was any room left in our bellies, but a mile-high coconut layer cake had to be one of the best cakes I've ever eaten. It was a lovely afternoon.

A solemn, but beautiful morning, at Ground Zero -- the memorial site at the World Trade Center. It was majestic in its intention, and gripping in its magnitude. Do go. It's a sacred place. But hours of walking, on such a balmy day, can make one hungry. We strolled to Stone Street in the Financial district -- cut off from traffic, it is a cobbled path between aged buildings of a more human scale. It felt a bit like being in London, or Naples; especially the latter as we delved into a really top-notch thin crusted pepperoni pizza at Adrienne's. Sitting outside on November 27th!, sipping red wine, was my idea of nice.

I made my first pecan pie to finish the weekend and my daughter made cranberry sauce -- the jellied block kind that makes me smile. Who knew you could make that?! It seems that the recipe has been on the back of the bag forever: All you need is a strainer, a wooden spoon and a strong arm to push those cranberries through the wire mesh. I also made a large turkey, stuffing, roasted butternut squash, string beans....it's important to have leftovers, no?

And I want to share a comment from a reader of Real Food magazine about my sweet potato, pear and walnut gratin. You don't have to wait for next year to make it. It would be lovely with roast pork or duck. Enjoy!

Dear Ms. Gold, I just had to tell you that yesterday I made your Sweet Potato, Pear, and Walnut Gratin recipe that appeared in the Fall 2011 edition of Real Food. It was the star of our Thanksgiving dinner, far outshining everything else on the table, and the kitchen is still redolent with the aroma of that magical concoction of cream, chipotle chile and curry! (Thank you so much for this inventive dish, and many others over the years.) -- KJ from Minneapolis 

Tastes of the Week

November 14  through 21, 2011 Had one of the loveliest brunches -- at Maialino -- in the cool, plush Gramercy Hotel overlooking New York's park of the same name. Sitting at the bar (in the quiet sunlight of November) a friend and I shared an $8 glass of a red wine from Tuscany served in a very expensive wine glass. I love when that happens. It is a very Danny Meyer touch to do that. Maialino is Danny's "Roman" restaurant (one of many in his empire) and is a divine place to dine. We ate the welcome basket of focaccia with gusto and then moved on to a "budino" -- an orange-scented olive oil "cake-lette."  Not quite muffin nor tea bread, it satisfied the morning urge for something sweet but not-too-sweet. It was hard not to notice the extra-thick pepper-crusted bacon sitting in front of our bar neighbor so we ordered that, too. It was hard to resist the autumnal offering of poached eggs on roasted brussels sprouts and squash puree -- heavenly morning food. And I LOVED my bowl of tripe with an olive-oil fried egg on top. I enjoyed the tripe at Maialino the first time I went and thought the idea for breakfast was inspiring. It begged for a few sips of red wine. Then something funny happened:  I was spotted entering the restaurant by the owner from his apartment across the street and so out came a few more dishes to try:  amazing paper-thin slices of ham made from suckling pig (!) -- soft and tender, it simply melted upon your tongue; and a helping of squash-filled agnolotti with fried sage, butter and a sunny hint of lemon. That was another bit of Meyer Hospitality: He is the master. Brunching at the bar is so special at Maialino that a lovely woman next to us told us we could find her there every Sunday -- with newspapers in hand and a whiff of Rome in the air.

As guest lecturer at a luncheon for the Junior League of New York last week, I was treated to a menu of my own food! It's always interesting when that happens and sometimes the results can be alarming. But Chef Patrick did a special job of interpolating my recipes for 4 into recipes for 75. Not always easy to do. So the next time you have a crowd for lunch you might want to try:  a salad of Pea Shoots & Greens with Goat Cheese & Cumin Vinaigrette; Crisped Chicken with Chimichurri & Avocado, Walnut-Onion Muffins (which are perfect for Thanksgiving so look for the recipe below), and "The Little Black Dress Chocolate Cake" topped with raspberries and a one-ingredient creme anglaise (made from a reduction of egg nog.) The topic of the lecture was "mindful" cooking, including the concept of radical simplicity, and the recipes can all be found in Radically Simple.

And one of the most special lunches in New York, now going on for 25 years, is the Power Lunch hosted by the "insatiable" food critic, Gael Greene. It is an extraordinary event of extraordinary women (and a smattering of men who pay $10,000 to attend!) to raise money for Citymeals-on-Wheels. Gael started it decades ago with legendary food guru James Beard and it has grown into a NY institution -- both the lunch and the organization for which multi-million dollars have been raised over the years. The most meaningful moments occur when we are treated to the voices of actors reading the words of the older people, many who are shut-ins, who count on Meals on Wheels for their very sustenance. Not only is the meal important but also the companionship and care that accompany each delivery.  For many elderly there is no one else who knocks on their door any more. For many years, Joe Baum and Michael Whiteman used to host the event at the Rainbow Room (which we owned and operated for 13 years). Now it is held at the glorious Taj Pierre Hotel. I thought lunch was delicious:  It's not easy to prepare 300 portions of perfectly cooked bass, brussels sprouts the size of your fingernail, roasted beets, and the best assemblage of miniature pastries -- macaroons, tiny lemon meringue tarts, genoise cupcakes -- ever.

A nice tuna sandwich with a fried egg and hollandaise at April Bloomfield's restaurant John Dory...at the hip Ace Hotel -- accompanied by a Finger Lakes wine, a dry riesling, called the Gotham Project. Now who wouldn't love that!

Walnut-Onion Muffins (yum!) In the 1980's, I helped create a three-star restaurant in New York called the Hudson River Club, whose menu was based on the region's local bounty. My friend Wendy Dubit, who had a farm in the Hudson Valley, found this recipe in an old cookbook. I just made it radically simple. Its yummy moisture and flavor comes from pureed onion.

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped 2 extra-large eggs 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 6 tablespoons sugar 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour 1 cup shelled walnuts, about 4 ounces, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat 16 muffin cups with cooking spray. Process the onion in a food processor until finely ground. Measure out 1 cup. Beat together the onion, eggs, butter, and sugar. Blend in the flour and chopped walnuts to make a smooth batter. Fill the muffin tins and bake 18 minutes until just firm and golden. Serve warm.  Makes 16

Make these muffins on Thanksgiving morning and enjoy. Today the muffins, tomorrow a pumpkin cheesecake...

Tastes of the Week

November 7 through 13, 2011 Jack o' Lantern leftovers! We never got to carve our pumpkin this Halloween and so a faceless orb has been staring at me for the last two weeks. Small to medium in size, about 3 pounds, including a long graceful stem -- I vowed to treat it with respect and serve it forth for dinner. A radically simple recipe ensued:  Cut a 3 pound, very round pumpkin in quarters. Place in a small paella pan or baking dish, upside down (the seeds and membrane are easier to remove after it's cooked.) Place 1 inch of water in pan and bake at 400 degrees until soft, about 45 minutes. Turn over, cover and bake until very tender. Remove seeds and membranes. Drizzle with good olive oil and a liberal sprinkling of ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and kosher salt. Drain water; place pumpkin in pan and bake until slightly caramelized. See my recipe for Calabaza Soup with Celery & Crispy Sage (below) -- just in case you, too, have a leftover pumpkin.

The sweet aromatics of ras el hanout (available in Middle Eastern markets and spice shops) are intoxicating. Meaning "top of the shop" in Arabic, each mixture is unique but generally combines more than one dozen spices (and sometimes up to 100!). The predominant perfume comes from cardamom, clove, cinnamon, chili, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, and turmeric. It is wonderful rubbed on lamb or chicken or simply sprinkled on tomato soup to take it in an exotic direction. It lent a playful aroma, and taste, to the nutty quality of the pumpkin. It is a spice mixture that has a definitive place in my pantry and in my heart.

Perhaps as I get older, I covet reservations at my friends' tables, even more than at the newest restaurant. And so, last night, we were lucky enough to be invited to the home of Jerry Adler and Beth Lebowitz. They are the perfect couple in many remarkable ways and also in the kitchen where Jerry is cook to Beth's pastry chef. This amazing meal began with homemade ricotta gnocchi -- I was knocked out by their lightness -- with a heady sauce of porcini, prosciutto and tomato paste (also homemade!). It was followed by a luscious pork shoulder (baked for 18 hours and inspired, perhaps, by a recipe in Radically Simple); tiny roasted brussels sprouts, lovely carrots with capers, and golden, crispy roasted potatoes.  A voluptuous onion sauce accompanied the pork which was already generously flavored with coriander seed and garlic. The skin on top of the pork got so crispy that we shared it like a peace pipe and nodded with the crunching brittle sounds of happiness. A wonderful pear clafouti and good strong coffee followed. A brisk, and needed, walk home. Jerry is a crackerjack journalist: Check out his story on heirloom grains in an upcoming article in Smithsonian, and his previous piece on scientist/chef Myhrvold.

This week's most extraordinary food experience, however, took place at the James Beard House during "A Dinner to Remember."  No doubt, I will remember it, and Jerry's ricotta gnocchi, for a long, long time.

You might want to start your own "week of tastes" with the following almost-winter soup:

Pumpkin Soup with Celery & Crispy Sage This soup, adapted from Radically Simple, has an air of the West Indies about it, with its earthy flavors of ginger, scotch bonnet, pepper, celery, thyme and sage (often found in "jerk" recipes.) Butternut or calabaza squash can be substituted for the pumpkin.

3-1/2 pound piece of pumpkin 6 tablespoons olive oil 2 cups finely chopped onions 1 cup finely chopped celery, plus leaves for garnish 2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger 1/2 small scotch bonnet pepper, finely minced 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves 20 medium-large fresh sage leaves 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove seeds and membrane from pumpkin. Place in a roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Pour 1 inch water into the pan and bake 1-1/2 hours until very soft. Scoop out the flesh. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 4-quart pot. Add the onions, celery, ginger, minced pepper, thyme, 2 sage leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook 15 minutes over medium heat. Add the sugar and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and add the squash. Cover and cook 15 minutes. In batches, puree the soup in a food processor until very smooth. Fry the remaining sage leaves in a small pan in 2 tablespoons hot oil until crispy. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.  Serve the soup hot with the fried sage leaves and celery leaves. Serves 6

Tastes of the Week

October 31 through November 6 Notes from Napa Valley: The take-away from three days and nights at the Culinary Institute of America's food conference  -- "World Casual:  The Future of American Menus"--  comes the notion that the food of tomorrow will be a big mash-up of tastes and flavors all on one plate. No doubt you are experiencing that now. The "grab-and-go" food of yesterday and of the globe's most remote locations, is the knockout food of today and we can barely digest it all. It's "the experience" we all seem to be after -- whether at the $3 price level...or $300.00. Once upon a time, casual restaurants distilled their ideas from  "upscale dining." Today, upscale restaurants chefs are inspired by more humble tastes -- from ethnic street food vendors  and idiosyncratic food trucks.

There were more than 700 cooks, sponsors, and food companies present. And there were chefs from twenty-one countries who all weighed in on the interesting debate of "what's next?" There was a strong presence from Spain, particularly the Basque region, with a handful of chefs doing cutting edge pintxos (tapas) --with one dramatic showing of dry ice in a sardine can which "smoked" as the food was presented on top. Pretty cool stuff to accompany a glass of cava (of which there were numerous examples to try.)

And there were more authentic offerings too, from Paul Bartolotta from Las Vegas, the wonderful Indian chef Hemant Mathur from Tulsi in New York (a recent Michelin star recipient), and from Sara Jenkins, porchetta-e-pasta diva from the lower East Side. Jose Garces, the superstar chef from Philadelphia predicted that Ecuadorian food is the next trend (Peruvian food is the current one), and made delicious Slow-Cooked Pork Trotters with Spicy Peanut Curry, Scallions and Hominy. Historian and chef, Maricel Priscilla, owner of two great restaurants in Hoboken, seconded that notion with her tantalizing Ecuadorian Shrimp Ceviche with Peanuts in the style of Manabi. From another Latino kitchen came a fascinating dish presented by Rick Bayless (from Chicago's Frontera Grill, etc.) -- a "dry ceviche" made with ground yellowtail, lime juice, carrots, red onion and minced serrano pepper. It's an "a la minute" dish that can truly be made in seconds.

Most of the time we ate from the half-acre of food stalls and buffet tables -- the Iberico pork (fresh) from Spain was remarkable, as was the foccacia di Recco of Chef Bartolotta, the Sfincione alla Palermitana from Umbrian chef Salvatore Denaro, and the fragrant biryani from Nimmy Paul, a food writer and consultant from Kerala. During one of the wonderful presentations moderated by Michael Whiteman, I had the best pork belly bao of my life, from Charles Phan, owner and executive chef of San Francisco's Slanted Door. As Mr. Whiteman aptly said about so much of this food, "both time and distance have evaporated; you can get anything from anywhere."  I also enjoyed a classic salad from Singapore called "rojak" -- made with pineapple, cucumber, mango, fish sauce, shrimp paste and ground nuts, prepared by chef KF Seetoh. It was as classic as anything that translates as "chaos" could be. Very refreshing and mysterious. The longest line of the three-day festival, however, was Chef Phan's "Fried Chicken with Sriracha Butter."

One night we went out for dinner in St. Helena to one of the most beautifully casual/upscale restaurants anywhere, called Press. Specializing in wood-fired food and one of Napa's great wine lists, the restaurant is owned by Leslie Rudd (from Rudd Vineyards, 209 Gin, and owner of Dean & Deluca) and the CIA's "Advance Ambassador" Reuben Katz (who used to work with us at the Rainbow Room.) Great ambiance and lots of protein but the killer dish that night was...Wood-roasted Brussels Sprouts with big chunks of Nueske's bacon. Amazing. I also loved my side dish of smokey-buttery kale that I chose to have as my first course.

We also had a big deal dinner at one of San Francisco's most revered restaurants: Michael Mina. Loved the dry malvasia from Greece I had as an aperitif accompanied by oiled-grilled bread served with tiny ramekins of creamy ricotta and honey.

And the best bedtime "pillow treat" I've had in a hotel recently (the lovely Inn at Southbridge) was the shortbread cookie embedded in a disc of bittersweet chocolate. I may order a case. It's from a company called Totally Chocolate.

This was the 14th year that the CIA held their World of Flavors Conference. There's nothing quite like it.

Tastes of the Week

October 23 through October 30, 2011 First taste treat goes to the mushroom pizza I had last night at my high school reunion at Sue Schwartz and Howard Muchnick's beautiful apartment on East End Avenue. For take-out, it wasn't bad. Rather great, really. But maybe it was the wine, or the nostalgia, being with friends I haven't seen in 42 years. Friends from Fresh Meadows, Queens, New York --where I spent my childhood. Fresh Meadows is the subject of a marvelous new book called "Fresh Meadows" -- part of the "Images of America" series created by Arcadia Publishing. Written by Fred Cantor and Debra L. Davidson, it pays homage to what Paul Goldberger called "the quintessential suburban housing complex." Thirty years prior, Lewis Mumford hailed the community as "perhaps the most positive and exhilarating example of large-scale community planning in this country." It was where I cooked at my mother's knee for almost 50 years.

And here's a vicarious taste experience. My husband and his best friend Bob Kern had lunch at Ciano this week. They loved it and thoroughly enjoyed the food, the focaccia gently warmed in the fireplace, and the human warmth of the maitre d' who chatted them up, poured their wine, and brought them more good bread. Three excellent dishes:  a casserole of Tuscan beans, smoked fennel sausage and garlicky breadcrumbs; fusilli with broccoli rabe and sweet sausage in a creamy sauce of that broccoli; and  a thick slab of roasted eggplant “Amatriciana” topped with cured pork cheek, tomato and pepperoncini.  Super-star chef Shea Gallante is the man at the stove. Prix fixe lunch (for three courses) is an awesome $20.95. You just can't beat that.                           

That same day I was having lunch with my good friend Robin Adelson Shinder, executive director of the Children's Book Council and the Every Child A Reader national program. We had lunch at the newly opened Kibo restaurant on East 18th Street. Kibo is another flag in the kingdom of Steve Hanson's restaurant empire -- which include eateries such as Blue Water Grill, Atlantic Grill, Bill’s Burger Bar and Dos Caminos . Our waiter, David, was a rock star who was so professional at orchestrating our meal and sharing a bit about himself. He had just passed his bar exam (no, not a mixologist but to be an attorney) and his positive energy added lots of fun to the experience. We began with spicy, salt-licked fried shishito peppers, a refreshing japanese cucumber appetizer, and good-enough ramen noodles in a porky broth that needed a bit of the chili paste that accompanied it. The items from the robata grill were the real thrill, however, and I wish there were more of those on the menu! We had the filet (steak), chicken, and huge perfectly-cooked shrimp with a dab of kimchee aioli. I could easily put the chicken on the very top of my favorite tastes this year.

Desserts were Japanese-inspired, yet decidedly American, and very delicious. A green tea panna cotta with smoky almonds, and a wonderful pumpkin tofu cheesecake with bananas and salted caramel ice cream anchored by what looked like crushed malted milk balls. The consulting chef on this lovely, big project was, unexpectedly, one of the most respected chefs in the world, Joel Robuchon, who has more Michelin stars than any other chef in the world. Amazing, really. And while the essence of Robuchon is French, he does own a Japanese restaurant in Monaco, called Yoshi. There is a simple price-fixed lunch offered at the remarkable price of $14.95 for two courses. The front-of-the-house personnel, btw, are better-trained, and more charming, than most anywhere. At night, I hear, Kibo becomes an energized, public/private club with DJ and all, and lots of people popping champagne corks. I, myself, will stick to the affordable, thirst-quenching, chilled sake on draft, and go again for lunch.

Bargain breakfast at L'Express on Park Avenue South and 20th street. For almost 10 years now, I use this wonderful bustling French bistro as my "city office." I order a "tartine" -- which is nothing more than a 1-1/2 foot long slender slice of well-toasted baguette.  Butter and orange marmalade (which you must ask for), on the side. It reminds me of the days in Paris when I stayed near the Sorbonne at the Hotel Pierwige for $9 a night. They too served well-toasted baguettes in the morning. Unlimited pour of very good coffee. See you there.

Late afternoon snack at abckitchen -- in the back parlour -- where they offer a limited menu and lots of interesting things to drink between regular meal times. Very nice to sip fresh mint tea (Moroccan-style), drink coconut water, share their famous roasted carrot salad, and nibble on cookies. It's like eating in a museum cafe; there is just no store like abc home in the whole wide world.

As promised, last Sunday, our pot luck dinner with friends, including Susy Davidson, exec. dir. of the Julia Child Foundation, at the home of Pat and John Duffy, included copious amounts of smoked salmon and sturgeon from Russ & Daughters, espresso-sized cups of chilled beet soup with creme fraiche and grated lemon, coffee-and-chipotle braised shortribs, a creamy potato gratin, roasted Brussels sprout with bacon, a yummy salad with toasted walnuts and pickled onions, and a beautiful apple tart in a shortbread crust, made by Debbie Freundlich (editor, with Susy of American Express's Briefing Magazine who just happens to be the mother-in-law of Julianne Moore.)

Wishing you good tastes this week.

Tastes of the Week

October 16 through October 23, 2011 This past week was an embarrassment of riches at the table. And while I really like eating home best, there is nothing quite like sharing an excellent meal with a friend. At lunch, three hours seems to be the golden rule for maximum pleasure. Dinner is nothing short of four. This is a luxury for me but one that I love. We have a little joke, my husband and me. When I call late at night to check in and say hi (or good-night as the case may be), his first question is always, "Have you ordered yet?" We always laugh. Yes, Michael, I reply. "I'm on the way home."

For a nice mid-afternoon Sunday lunch for my brother and a dear friend who is an eminent food writer for Newsday, I prepared a radically simple meal of Chilled Beet Soup with Creme Fraiche and Lemon Zest, and, my "go to" recipe for Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage and Gin, accompanied by a potato gratin. Dessert? A new one for me -- a lemon tart from Thomas Keller. I swapped walnuts for the pine nuts in the ethereal crust and it worked!  (Check out Radically Simple for my recipes and go to Epicurious for the Keller lemon tart.) I served the tart with a small cookie made from extra crust, topped with a tiny scoop of my lemon buttermilk ice cream (only 3 ingredients!)

A celebratory feast at the Taj Pierre Hotel in New York for the launch of a remarkable book "The Taj at Apollo Bunder." Hundreds of guests, thousands of orchids and festival lights to honor Diwali -- an important Hindu holiday. Amazing Indian and southeast Asian things to eat which I will describe at length in another post.

Dinner at Del Posto with my wonderful young cousin Josh Rovner who is the head of training in revenue management for Hilton. He loves to eat in four-star restaurants and we chose the crown jewel in the Bastianich-Batali kingdom. Here's the menu cooked by chef Mark Ladner:  Abalone Carpaccio with Grilled Asparagus & Young Ramps; Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Jalapeno & Minced Scallion: Yesterday's 100-layer Lasagne alla Piastra; Young Lamb alla Romana, Garlic Yogurt with Ceci & Swiss Chard Ragu; Sardinian Lamb & Roman Artichokes, Bruised Mint & Saffron Potatoes; Sour Apricot & Toasted Cashew Coppettina, Sfera di Caprino with celery, fig agrodolce & celery sorbetto; Sunchoke crema with gelato al lievito. What can I say? Worth it. Unexpected visits from Lidia Bastianich and also Joe. Drank their wine.

Lunch at rooftop at Eataly at La Birreria on a very sunny but slightly chilly afternoon. Their space heaters really work but bring a sweater or a pashmina anyway. My favorite new lunch: Whole roasted Maiitake mushrooms with Pecorino Sardo crema, asparagus and peas;  a salad of chopped mixed kale, grapefruit, poppy seed frico with anchovy vinaigrette; and nubby, fatty, divine housemade cotechino with their signature coarsely-cut kraut. Doppio espresso.

Brunch at Barbounia with psychoanalyst friend (specializes in teenage girls -- very helpful because we have one!). This has got to be the hippest, happening brunch in town, especially on a Saturday. Everything looked so good! You can linger for four hours (like we did!) over a mountain of mezze but the green shakshuka, the 1-inch high pancakes, the gigantic fresh salads all looked fabulous. Please save room for the kadayifi dessert -- layered with warm cheese, rose water syrup and kulfi ice cream. Oh my gosh.

Village Zendo --  cocktail reception with lovely southeast Asian offerings by the Communal Table catering (nycommunaltable.blogspot.com) -- to learn about the efforts of Michael Daube, director of Citta -- an organization that builds schools, hospitals and orphanages in the poorest areas of the world including Nepal, India and Chiapas (citta.org).  Talks, slides and lovely photos of the children in Nepal waiting for a school to be built. Bought an ebulllient drawing by 8-year old Tenzin Thiley who looks like a happy, handsome kid.

Dinner at Paros -- a new Greek restaurant in Park Slope. Good place for a bottle of Greek wine (a new-to-me delicious dry red -- Naoussa Chrisohoou 2008) and a salad. Wonderful waiters, even Saturday night Greek music and a lovely singer. Read between the lines.

A late-afternoon coffee at Nespresso Boutique in Soho (92 Prince St.) -- a great place to crash with comfortable tables and chairs. Good espresso but the latte machiatto really looked fabulous.

Dinner tonight at the Duffy's -- with Susy Davidson, the executive director of the Julia Child Foundation, and a few wonderful friends -- old and new. It's a pot luck and we're all bringing something. More about that next week.

May your coming week be full of good taste (and tastes.)

Tastes of the Week

October 9 through October 16, 2011 As promised, below, is the recipe for the salmon dish featured in Al Hashulchan -- Israel's number one food mag. It was chosen as the best of the 100 recipes offered in this month's issue. Lovely with a glass of sauvignon blanc to integrate all the flavors.

A lovely vegan carrot cake at GustOrganics on 6th Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. Good coffee, too. It's an interesting place -- an open-to-the-street cafe -- full of plants and wooden tables with an appealing full menu if you happen to be in the neighborhood; or happen to be a vegan!

Lunch with the beautiful Ellie Krieger of Food Network fame at Boulud Sud. It was a wonderful meal that made me wistful for the first New York restaurant that fused the flavors of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It was actually a restaurant I created for a client more than 25 years ago when I was chef/director of the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Co. The restaurant, which still exists, was called Cafe Greco and Tom Valenti (of upper west side fame) was our first chef. Times have changed yet my prediction about Med-Rim cuisine is happening. Daniel Boulud did a masterful job incorporating the flavors of za'atar, ras el hanout, tahini, eggplant, chickpeas, a baccala-inspired falafel, and much more, into his beautiful French style of cooking.

We had one of the best and most celebratory lunches imaginable at the Four Seasons restaurant on East 52nd Street. We hadn't been for so many years and wondered why. The Grill Room at lunch is "the place to be and be seen." While Kissenger and I.M. Pei were clearly out of town, there were power-broker tables for sure. But the real pleasure was the food. It felt contemporary yet nostalgic, for its essence reminded me of the food I have been longing for.  Extraordinary bay scallops (the real ones!) on polenta with a truffle sauce; grilled octopus (so tender it melted on your tongue) with a lovely bean and tapenade salad hidden under a tuft of arugula; a fabulous lobster bisque (when was the last time you had that?), a beautiful offering of striped bass with autumn vegetables in a chorizo-mussel broth, and much more to be shared in a future story.

And I was "gifted" today with a steak from our friend Erica, who bought it at the brand new, everybody's talkin' about, butcher-shop, Fleischer's on 5th Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope. It is their signature steak, "sirloin top." And my brother brought me a box of the best pignoli cookies made this side of Rome, from Giorgio's bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey.

If you're at a farmer's market this week, look for the tiny heirloom eggplants that I spotted at the market near Lincoln Center. Some of them were round and bright red, all different colors and tiny shapes and sizes. They looked like marzipan. Exciting times for vegetables!

Okay, this blog is so long, please look for the recipe tomorrow on this site -- with a photo!

Tastes of the Week

October 2 through October 9, 2011 The season's new brussels sprouts were evident everywhere in the farmer's market this week and so I ran home to make my favorite recipe using these adorable little cabbages: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Medjool Dates. You will find the recipe below.

In one fell swoop, I had some of the most delicious Italian "comfort" food ever -- cooked by the maestro, Marc Vetri (award-winning chef from Philadelphia) at a cool dinner he gave last week. Not only did the food rock, but so did his music -- he played "sous-guitarist" to the great Phil Roy. The dinner party entitled "Sounds Good/Tastes Good" sure did. Most of the recipes were from Marc's wonderful new book "Rustic Italian Food" -- just out this month and published by Ten Speed Press. We ate:  Tuna-Ricotta Fritters (buy the book just for that recipe!), homemade salumi with artichoke mostarda, rigatoni with chicken livers (I'm still dreaming about it), amazing goat cheese and beet "plin" (a kind of pasta), roasted lamb shoulder, fish poached in olive oil accompanied by a fennel gratin, and an olive oil cake with amaretti semifreddo and chocolate sauce for dessert. As the food filled our stomachs, music filled the room. A wonderful time was had by all.

Great salami from Mario Batali at a 10th grade parents dinner (our kids are in the same class.)

It's unusual to break the fast at a restaurant and nightclub, but there we were on Saturday night at the legendary SOB's on Varick Street (after sun-down of course) and after a day of fasting -- feasting on pao de queso (delicious Brazilian cheese puffs), great guacamole, seafood swimming in a carved-out pineapple, feijoada, coconut cream birthday cake and caipirinhas. Lots of dancing with the birthday girl, Audrey Appleby and friends.

And the last of the holiday matzoh balls in a greatly reduced, and very delicious chicken broth. The last of the round challah, too.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Medjool Dates This recipe is from my newest book, Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease. A delicious merge of flavors, it is radically simple to make. Use large, plump, moist Medjool dates. They come from Iran but also from California. You can buy them in Middle Eastern markets.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed 6 large soft Medjool dates, pitted and diced 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the Brussels sprouts with 2 tablespoons of the oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the sprouts cut side down. Roast for 10 minutes. Add the dates to the pan and toss with the sprouts. Roast 10 minutes longer, until caramelized. Transfer the sprouts to a platter. Toss with the cheese, thyme, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add salt and pepper and drizzle with more oil, if needed. Serves 4

Tastes of the Week

September 26 through October 2 Early in the week I enjoyed a wonderful reception at the newly-refurbished bistro La Mangeoire for new members of Les Dames d'Escoffier. It is a stellar group of women chefs, food writers, journalists, tv stars, and culinary philanthropists. Four-star chef Christian Delouvrier (formerly of Lespinasse) is happily cooking there: Highlights of the evening were the caramelized onion pissaladiere and gorgeous nuggets of fresh foie gras served atop slices of rare duck breast.

During our first night of Rosh Hashanah I experienced many "firsts" and many "best of" ingredients and dishes. My wonderful friend Dale brought her very own honey -- a wildflower honey cultivated from her own bees near Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Fragrant, graceful, full of flavor, I never want to finish it but it is impossible to stop drizzling it over everything. A kind of culinary riddle, no?

That night, too, I had the best tart ever. It was a lemon tart, slightly brûléed on top, made with a superlative crust fashioned from pine nuts, sugar, butter and some flour (I think). I will try to get the recipe from Bob Spitz (author, journalist and one heck of a baker) who was kind enough to bring this glorious lemon confection along with a fallen soufflé cake! Very generous.

And the food maven, Arthur Schwartz, brought the "best of show" chopped liver with gribenes (golden bits of crispy chicken skin) and equally fabulous vegetarian chopped liver made with stringbeans, caramelized onions and I'm not sure what else. I will get that recipe for you, too.

My matzoh balls were pretty good and my husband's citrus-y chicken and cauliflower-leek kugel were divine.

For the last four days I have been at a retreat at the Garrison Institute in a program related to my hospice and hospital work. It was a wonderful experience and a highlight of being at this beautiful monastery right on the Hudson River is the food, for it is exquisitely simple, very farm-to-table, and very delicious. Shelly Boris, the chef, has a unique way of feeding a crowd in a personal way, satisfying what seemed to be everyone's needs and desires.  We were 70 guests at every meal. Highlights included an aromatic green curry (made with tofu) and served with basmati rice; a fabulous dish of orecchiette with roasted eggplant and goat cheese; the last-gasp-of local summer tomatoes with a wonderful apple cider-mustard vinaigrette. And I always look forward to her scones, especially, the lemon poppy seed ones, in the morning.

Happy October. A month of good tastes, and recipes, to come.

Tastes of the Week

Sept 18 through Sept. 25 As the "social" season begins, there are lots of new restaurants opening in New York and some of them are very exciting: Two that come to mind are Saxon + Parole on the Bowery and Bleeker, and a vibrant new cevicheria called La Mar  located in the space that was once Tabla. La Mar is owned by the great Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, who has 12 locations around the world. As my globetrotting husband, international restaurant consultant, predicted several years ago, Peruvian food would become a major trend.

Fabulous crispy nuggets of fried fluke roe (amazing texture) and flavor.  The "special of the day" at La Mar.

Tiradito (Peru's version of sashimi) -- thinly sliced raw fish with a variety of sauces:  We tried "chifa" -- wild salmon belly and cilantro with passion fruit leche de tigre. I have a recipe for tiradito in my newest book, Radically Simple. See recipe below.

The best sampling of hams and cured pork products ever at Saxon + Parole. Also outstanding: portabello mushroom mousse with whiskey and truffle jelly, hand-cut salmon tartare with roasted peppers, capers & quail egg, whole roasted branzino, cauliflower & gruyere gratin.

At the gala benefit for SHARE at Abigail Kirsch's Pier 60, sampled some of the best bites from New York's great women chefs: especially loved the duck "filet mignon" with truffle mousse and balsamic reduction, Gabrielle Hamilton's crostini of Valdeon blue cheese (from Spain) topped with a shaved radish, celery and fennel salad, and Barbara Sibley's (La Palapa) salmon and mango ceviche toastaditas with hibiscus syrup & serrano oil.

A savory zucchini and gruyere muffin at Sweet Melissa's in Park Slope.

And a terrific lattice apple pie from Costco! Last time it had too much cinnamon; this time it is perfect. Tiradito (adapted from Radically Simple) Begin with thin slices of impeccably fresh raw fish and top with my tart elixir of a whole pureed lemon, olive oil, and garlic.

12 ounces raw halibut or red snapper, sliced paper thin 1 small lemon 1/2 cup olive oil 1 medium clove garlic 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives handful of tender mesclun, mache or pea shoots

Arrange the fish slices in a tight circle without overlapping in the center of 4 large plates. Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt. With a small, sharp knife, cut the rind and pith from the lemon; quarter the flesh and remove the seeds. Process the lemon (including the rind and the), oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender until very smooth. Spoon the dressing over the fish to coat completely. Sprinkle with chives and coarsely cracked black pepper.  Garnish plates with mesclun, mache or pea shoots. Serves 4

Tastes of the Week

Sept. 11 to Sept. 18 A late evening snack, and a desperate one at that, of salty feta cheese and slices of firm, sweet banana. Unexpectedly good.

Homemade palacsintas (my home) with a filling of marmellata di arance di Sicilia (gift from Arthur Schwartz). Powdered sugar.

Salad of canned salmon fillets, hard-boiled egg, chickpeas, romaine & baby spinach, and pickled beets with whole lemon vinaigrette (recipe below).

I bought a bottle of Louisiana Supreme Chicken Wing Hot Sauce at a $1 store (out of town) and now we put it on everything we eat. It lights up your taste buds and creates ISR (instant salivatory response!) We're using it in droplets because we don't want to finish it. Desperate to find more.

Fabulous aromatic bunches of basil at the farmer's market at Grand Army Plaza. Bought some and made soupe au pistou (inspired by lunch at the home of Diana Carulli and Bryan Dunlap over Labor Day).

Delicious meatballs from Agata & Valentina at a cocktail reception for Arts Horizons at Celeste Holm's apartment. Arts Horizons is a wonderful non-profit that brings the arts to city schools in the tri-state area.

Topped a simple pasta dish of shells with freshly-made marinara sauce and mounds of garlicky sauteed spinach.

Recipe:  Whole Lemon Vinaigrette

1 small lemon 1/2 cup olive oil 1 large clove garlic, chopped

Remove the rind and pith from lemon. Remove seeds. Cut the lemon into small pieces and put in a blender. Add the olive oil and garlic and process until very smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tastes of the Week

August 28 through September 4 A resounding Labor Day dinner cooked by Gerry Dawes, celebrated authority of all things Spanish -- mostly food, wine, culture, and chefs -- the most authentic gazpacho ever (read more about it tomorrow), a seafood & chorizo paella cooked on the grill, and a middle course of sauteed mushrooms (six wild varieties) with leeks, wine and poached duck eggs on top.  All with Spanish whites (mostly from the Godello grape) to match.  Keep an eye out for these wines at your wine store.

A lovely dinner at Cathryn's restaurant in Cold Spring, New York.  Loved the black squid ink pasta, the calves liver, Venetian-style, sea bass with leek and black olive pesto, and a fabulous organic burger -- rare, juicy and flavorful as can be.

A great walk on the new part of the High Line on 11th avenue, followed by a wonderful early dinner at Donatella's -- her new restaurant/pizzeria on 8th avenue and 18th street in the city.  A wonderful pizza margherita (for our daughter) , followed by a delicious pizza with sausage and broccoli rabe (for me), and a very credible pasta with sea urchin (for my husband).  Love the ambiance and Donatella's gold pizza oven with her name inlaid on it.

Another out-of-this world lunch on the rooftop of Eataly.  At Birreria, with sunglasses on our heads and wine glasses full of Fontanafredda Langhe Bianco, a friend and I shared two simply delicious dishes: a kale salad with grapefruit, poppy seed frico and anchovy vinaigrette, and pork shoulder braised with beer and apricot. Signature "kraut" and lots of good bread.

Wine grape of the week:  Godello

First course of the week:  Cold soup (authentic gazpacho; and cucumber-cilantro-yogurt).  What they had in common were delicious warm homemade croutons.

Last fling of summer:  Party at Katie Booth's, dinner for four at the Adlers, terrace dinner party at Saralie's (prior blog)

Cold SpaghettiOs and Tastes of the Week

The impending hurricane had us scurrying to a local supermarket in Jeffersonville, New York to gather some goods before we headed back to Park Slope. As suggested by camp officials, we brought our daughter home from French Woods one day early. "What to eat?" we asked ourselves, if we're to lose electricity during the storm. "Beans, "I said to my husband. "I'll make some beans."  "You can't," he replied, "nor can you make your morning coffee." (Our oven needs a jolt of electricity to work.)  "Wow, I thought."  Our daughter doesn't eat fish and we can't heat anything up, so what does one eat, I muttered, as we sauntered up and down the aisles.  I really had to laugh as we pulled baked beans off the shelf (cold? could be good!); canned corn, breakfast cereal, peanut butter, applesauce, mandarin oranges, and spaghettiOs.  Yes, we did. Other tastes of the week included:

Fabulous gelato at Grom in the New York's Greenwich Village:  espresso gelato and crema di Grom (with nubbins of corn biscuits and shaved chocolate).  A great marriage of flavors.  Luxurious texture.

Such a delicious feijoada and pernil (roast pork) -- washed down with a couple of glasses of pinot noir-like Zweigelt (from Austria) at Samba Cafe in Jeffersonville, New York.   More about that tomorrow!

Two wonderful salads at our daughter's camp! (French Woods for the Performing Arts.)  Roasted sweet potato and white bean salad (with a touch of vinegar and curry), and one of best couscous salads I've had.  Will try to get the recipe -- will feed 800!

A great seasonal summer tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, wood-fired olives, and a credible Pizza Margherita at the Park Slope hotspot, Franny's.

Robust, savory, yum cannelloni filled with lamb and some unknown (but knowable) pungent cheese at Tarallucci e Vino on East 18th Street in NY.

Good white-and-yellow corn on the cob from Key Food.  Really.

And...a great, rare burger at Slainte (Irish bar) on the Bowery.  Decent house red.  Cheap.  Good fries.

Tastes of the Week

August 15  through August 21 A delicious, intense cafe cortado (espresso with milk foam) at the charming, tiny Italianesque coffee bar in Park Slope called Cafe Regular du Nord -- located on Berkeley off 7th Ave.   It is the only time I ever have milk in my coffee: I am a die-hard black coffee addict.  The cortado tastes like a special treat and better than dessert!

A wonderful salad of baby calamari and a sformata of polenta, gorgonzola and wild mushrooms at restaurant Da Andrea (across the street from the Quad Cinema where I saw Passione for the 2nd time!)  A glass of a good Montepulciano -- their house red wine.

An espresso upstairs at an adorable cafe called Adore (run by a Japanese man) whose customers are mostly Japanese.  A tiny secret on West 13th Street, where soups, sandwiches and other light food is also served.  It's a great place to hide, get hydrated, read, and stay cool.

Went to to uber-famous little pie shop in Brooklyn called Four & 20 Blackbirds.  The salty caramel apple pie and the strawberry-balsamic pie actually exceeded expectations. (3rd avenue and 7th street in Bklyn).

Not far from the pie shop, if you want some savory food before your pie, is Bar Tono which has style and good food.  Pizza looked good, so did my friend's burger, and my salad of wild arugula, roquefort, dried cranberries, and walnuts was delicious and ample.  (3rd avenue and 9th street in Bklyn).

Went to restaurant La Mangeoire on 2nd Avenue and 52nd street in Manhattan for the first time in over 30 years!   The 4-star chef Christian Delouvrier is cooking there!  Lovely stuffed sepia, calves liver with caramelized onions (you hardly find that any more!), Provencal vegetable tart, even chocolate mousse for dessert.  What a lovely trip down memory lane.  Gerard, the owner, is charming.

Another amazing coffee -- this time a "macchiato" -- an espresso with just a dab of steamed milk, on the rooftop of Eataly at the new Birreria.  A credible offering of paper-thin slices of coppa with good bread and olive oil, and excellent Prosecco poured from a magnum in a beautiful glass. Nice touch.

Great chorizos in dry sherry at Cafe Espagnol off 7th Avenue in NYC.  Such an institution, I've wanted to go for decades but finally did.  My husband and I shared a bottle of good Rioja and pork chops with peppers, onions and sausages (awash in an old-fashioned, finger-licking brown sauce).

A dish at home of succulent pork "tonnato" (it's usually made with veal) blanketed in a velvety sauce of tuna, olive oil, mayonnaise, white wine reduction, background perfume of garlic, rosemary and bay.  As a garnish, lots of capers and a unique touch of whole leaves of fried sage!  Really good!

Tastes of the Week

August 7 through August 14th Began this morning with a bowl of yogurt and a copious pour of raspberry-rhubarb birch syrup brought to me by a friend who just returned from Alaska. Apparently they use this brooding, deeply complex elixir, instead of honey, in many ways. Birch syrup is a unique flavor from Alaska's forests and is apparently quite rare. It takes an average of 100 gallons of sap from paper birch trees to make 1 gallon of birch syrup (www.alaskabirchsyrup.com).

Great french fries at the Hotel Kitano jazz club where we heard the remarkable saxophonist Ted Nash and his quartet the other night. The burgers looked good, too -- and so did the drummer! Ted Nash, is one of the country's top jazz musicians -- we met him a few weeks ago in Ravello when he was traveling with Wynton Marsalis.

I finally went to the Park Slope Food Co-op! It's considered one of the best in the country and it's only a few blocks from my house. Purple okra, bouquets of perky basil, wild fennel, and watermelon with seeds! 

Fabulous dinner at ilili-- a very sophisticated Lebanese restaurant (Fifth Avenue and 28th St.) -- whose chef, Philippe Massoud is becoming a rock star. Begin with a table full of cold mezze (the best labneh!) and follow with a round of hot mezze, (and fried sweetbreads!) and savory pancake "sliders."  Baskets full of warm, homemade, ultra-thin pita.  Great pounded raw meat (kibbeh naya) that you place on the pita with a slice of onion, jalapeno and fresh mint!

An amazing tasting dinner at Eddie Schoenfeld's new restaurant Red Farm in the West Village.  The bbq'd Filet Mignon Tart with curried vegetables & frizzled ginger was one of the best "first tastes" I've ever had!  Also great? Kumamoto oysters wtih meyer lemon-yuzu ice, grilled vegetable salad with artichoke-bean curd dip and amazing homemade "crackers," and shu mai shooters, with carrot-ginger juice and fresh morels!

A great lunch, on one of New York's most beautiful afternoons, at Mario Batali's La Birreria on the rooftop of Eataly!  Sat outdoors and chomped down on a terrific sausage of pork and beef, flavored with coriander, a kind of half-cured chunky kraut, and a fabulous dish of maiitake mushrooms with asparagus and peas. I can't wait to go back.

A morning snack of Sicilian pesto (made with almonds, tomato, very good garlic, and basil) at Arthur Schwartz's house, followed by one of the year's best caponata's (check it out in Arthur's book "The Southern Italian Table"), eaten on crusty loaves of grain bread from Orwashers. I used to buy Orwasher's bread for Mayor Ed Koch when I was the chef at Gracie Mansion -- in 1978! A peach so good at Union Square Market that several people stopped me, as the juices were running down my arm, to ask me where I got it. I think they were from Breezy Hill Orchards. 

Tastes of the Week

August 1 through August 7 A transitional week of tastes and flavors from Rome (bottom up) to Callicoon Center, New York!  Fun!

A wonderful, congenial and perfectly cooked pancake breakfast at the Firehouse in Callicoon Center, New York. We joined what must have been 600 breakfasters, from 7 a.m. till noon, for orange juice, fabulous pancakes cooked by fireman Bill Murray, over-easy eggs, flat round peppery sausages the size of bread-and-butter plates, and good hot coffee.  All for 6 bucks.  Nice gun raffle, too.

Visiting our daughter in camp near Jeffersonville, New York we fell in love with a cafe and inn called Samba, run by a Brazilian woman and her husband, an actor, director and former captain at the Rainbow Room.  Her food is exquisitely comforting and for dinner we enjoyed a fabulous salt cod brandade topped with sunny-side up quail eggs, thick slices of juicy pernil (pork), a wonderful seafood stew made with leeks, cream, clams, mussels and pollock.  Dessert was vanilla ice cream with a warm Brazilian sugar-banana caramel. Fab! Steamed broccoli and chopped green cabbage tossed with flaked salt, extra-virgin olive oil and hot pepper flakes. So simple and satisfying -- the vegetables tasted almost sweet.  This was dinner at home one night.

Really good warm chocolate chocolate-chip cookies on the plane home from Italy.  Added cocoa powder to my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe this week and voila!

The definitive cacio e pepe (homemade pasta with pecorino romano and lots of cracked pepper) in Rome at the famous Antico Forno Roscioli.

One of the best meals in Italy was at the contemporary l'Antico Arco with a promising young chef who could really make it on the international scene.  From Albania, and only 29 years old, Fundim Gjepali respects the cooking of the famous chef Arzak in Spain and himself is cooking pretty sophisticated stuff:  fresh mozzarella with bottarga (a new trend in Italy), a warm elixir of ricotta and yogurt topped with asparagus, truffles and poached egg yolk, perfectly cooked risotto made with a local fish, and "meatballs" made from suckling pig.

"Trappizzini" -- made at Pizzeria 00100 on Via Giovanni Branca -- it is a fabulous stuffed bread (better than pizza dough) filled with the best tripe we've ever had (there are a variety of fillings to choose from including chicken cacciatore.)  It is a made-up dish -- between a sandwich and a pizza -- and it could become very popular.  It's a little hole-in-the wall place that has already been discovered by everyone!

Tastes of the Week (Italy Edition)

July 17th-24th, 2011 This week’s tastes all come from southern Italy on our summer holiday.  In the charming towns of Ravello, Minori and the lesser-known village of Scala, we have eaten well, sometimes superbly, and always with an eye to authenticity.

In the town of Minori, we sampled the two famous pastries of this area. One is the delicious, rum-soaked baba (here it is also available drenched in a syrup laced with limoncello), and the now-celebrated cake of pastry maestro Sal de Riso – made with ricotta and pears.  It was as good as Arthur Schwartz said it would be.  Arthur and Sal have become good friends because of Arturo’s many trips to this area.  In the same town, in the tiny main square in front of the yellow Baroque church (Basilica S. Trophimenae), we had for the first time, the famous fresh pasta of the Amalfi coast known as scialatielli. At ristorante Libeccio, we drank a fabulous and unexpectedly dry, sparkling rose from Greco di Tufo.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the local pasta adorned with an abundance of super-fresh seafood (including mussels, squid, and tiny razor clams), to the primal fresh vegetable soup, and a one-ingredient salad of arugula (the best and freshest!) with a squeeze of the extraordinary lemons of Amalfi and extra-virgin olive oil.

At the Ristorante dei Cavalieri in Scala, we sampled traditional dishes done in a slightly updated way, by chef Lorenzo Mansi.  There was sartu – a traditional Neapolitan rice dish baked in a mold.  Here it was surrounded by a thin coverlet of eggplant, filled with rice, provola, bits of chicken and meat.  Often it is filled with peas, mushrooms, sausages or chicken livers.  We also had a dish called gateau di patate – generally made as a sformata (a mold of potato, mozzarella, and bits of prosciutto), here was a more fluid, creamy version, almost risotto-like, or deconstructed.  It was delicious, if not quite the potato “cake” it should have been.  My husband had paccheri with seafood – another classic tubular pasta from this area.  Our friend’s birthday cake – served with fanfare – was a credible version of a Caprese cake (made with cocoa and almonds) – a classic from the Amalfi coast.

At Cumpa Cosimo in the town of Ravello, we ate gnocchi alla Sorrentino, a fabulous sausage smothered in melted provola, and a bit of tiramisu, offered by the ebullient Netta Bottone, the owner.

The best pizza so far was eaten at midnight, under the fireworks, inches from the sea in the town of Atrani on the evening of the feast of their patron saint.  The entire town came out to participate in this yearly event.  The pizza was da morire (to die for) – especially the one with tomato, anchovies and garlic.

Lots of wine on this trip: falanghina, fiano, and nameless but delicious dry, fresh, slightly frizzante reds. D.H. Lawrence spent lots of time here, as did Wagner (an all-Wagner concert last night at the Ravello music festival) with the superb (and very beautiful soprano), Martina Serafin.

Tastes of the Week

From July 11th to July 17th, 2011 Amazing fresh chickpeas at Union Square Market from the Bodhitree Organic farm (located 20 minutes south of Trenton). Boiled in their pods they taste somewhere between fresh peas and edamame. They are even interesting raw.  But we loved them best tossed with olive oil and a bit of garlic and "grilled" in a searing hot pan until slightly charred, then sprinkled with salt.  You suck them from their pods and then lick your fingers.

A pile of super-fresh peaches with thick yogurt and Rota organic honey from New Zealand.  A handful of fresh raspberries on top.  The honey is made from "the brilliant red flowering Rota trees" that flower every 3 or 4 years.  It is a highly prized white honey that is considered one of the world's best.

A slice of my Venetian Wine Cake made with olive oil, red wine, rosemary and lemon.  Am thinking about bringing it back on the market in the fall!

The best soft-serve ice cream at the Margate Dairy Bar in Margate, New Jersey.  Its chocolatey-ness came through the the black and white swirl like a blast from the past. Ultra-creamy texture.  Also enjoyed the orange and vanilla swirl (like a Creamsicle) on a cone.

A fun "cheese steak pizza" at Cavallino Nero in Mays Landing, New Jersey.  Sat outside in the front garden entwined with grape vines, feeling like we were somewhere in an obscure town in Italy.  (Where we will be next week!)

Fabulous cheeses from Cato Corner Farm located in the Union Square Market.  I especially adored the Black Ledge Blue and a very cheddary cheese called Bloomsday.  They name their cows and also their cheeses with great charm:  Dairyere, Drunk Monk, and Wise Womenchego. The amazing Dale Bellisfield, holistic medical practitioner, clinical herbalist and NJ bee keeper, turned me on to them.

Imported taralli, roasted almonds and white wine at Arthur Schwartz's house.

Lovely breakfast in Iva's garden (a friend in the neighborhood) sitting amongst fig trees and hanging clusters of green grapes. Fig trees!  Who knew? Great coffee and toasted slices of Amy's fennel-golden raisin rolls.

My daughter's homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Hers are much better than mine!

A large, lush, fleshy purple fig.

Tastes of the Week

From July 4 to July 10th, 2011 At the home of David Rosengarten, the food expert's expert, we were treated, on Saturday night, to a regal dinner based on the foods of Greece.  Extraordinary from end to end -- three kinds of feta from different regions of Greece, crisp-tender baby artichokes, a dozen mezedes, lamb-stuffed peppers and homemade spanakopita, demitasse cups of the artichoke-poaching broth, yogurt marinated chicken on pita with 16-hour dried tomatoes (so amazingly intense and sweet), more yogurt, indigenous honey and almond cake for dessert.  Twelve different wines, including a horizontal tasting of an indigenous wine/grape "Assyrtiko" from the island of Santorini.  David said this wine is at the forefront of a big trend. The wines (from different producers in Greece) are dry, minerally, big, complex.  One tasted like a dry malvasia, said my husband. The guest to my left, Don Bryant from the extraordinary Bryant Vineyards in California, said he liked #3.  (I'll ask David which that was and will let you know.) I decided any man who makes $1000 wine (per bottle) and has a waiting list!, probably has a good palate and I finished my glass of #3.

Retro and deliciously old-fashioned Italian "family food" at Cavallino Nero in Mays Landing, New Jersey.  Great angel hair pasta with freshly steamed clams, garlic and parsley, and good veal francese.  Even more retro was the price of a large glass of Chianti for $6.00 a pop.  Nice cannoli and a very sympatico waiter.

Fabulous strawberry pie from the Garrison Market in Garrison, New York.  Say hi to the pastry chef, Eric, if you go...and you should. It tasted super-saturated with strawberry flavor yet with the bright acidity that comes from rhubarb but alas it had no rhubarb in it! The other pies, peach and apple, looked great as well.  Ask for a piece with your morning coffee, otherwise buy a whole pie.

Great homemade zucchini bread from Aunt Anne in Margate, New Jersey.  "Zip code baking" for sure as the zucchini came from an  organic garden just two block away.  It was moist and spicy-sweet from nutmeg and cinnamon.  Delicious with yogurt and bananas for breakfast.

The BEST knockwurst from the local supermarket in Cold Spring, New York.  Griddled until the outside was crisp and a bit leathery -- slathered with Polish mustard.

Great summer corn vigorously rubbed with a fistful of fresh basil leaves, sweet butter, and coarse salt.

Gigantic fresh raspberries tossed with tiny ice cream-filled profiteroles, dusted with powdered sugar, at the home of friends in Garrison.

A summer peach, gently warmed by the sun on the window sill.

An ice-cold glass of New York City tap water.

Tastes of the Week

June 27 through July 3,2011 Lovely meals at abckitchen and Hell's Kitchen(44th and 10th) -- Mon. and Tues. respectively.

Great charcuterie from the Brooklyn Larder (especially the funky chorizo) at the book party of Alex Prud'homme (grand-nephew of Julia Child). Alex, who wrote the sensational book about the love affair of Julia and Paul Child named "My Life in France," just wrote a very important tome called "The Ripple Effect" -- about the global importance of water.  Beginning now, he advises us (and the world) to be mindful of what is to become our most valuable resource.

At a lovely picnic dinner, overlooking the Hudson River, across from West Point, our hosts Peter and Bill (along with friends Diana and Bryan), served a beautiful chicken salad with lettuces from the Cold Spring Farmer's Market, a lovely brown rice salad, and a fresh corn salad.  But it was dessert that made me swoon. A bowl of enormous raspberries mixed with tiny cream puffs filled with ice cream and showered with powdered sugar.  It was elegant as all get-out.

The 3rd of July brought a simple summer lunch -- after all, we are borrowing a friend's house in Garrison, NY and brought up a limited number of ingredients. Our makeshift meal included summer tomatoes and cucumbers, enlivened with a lemony vinaigrette with fresh thyme (and thyme flowers), served with dense grilled bread (actually they were slices of delicious square wholewheat rolls from Key Food!), thickly spread with a combo of boursin cheese and fresh goat cheese. Grilled chicken with za'atar on a bed of arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, oil-cured olives and steamed wax beans. Dessert?  The plumpest, moistest, Medjool dates (the size of a linebacker's thumb) brought home just the other day by my husband from his trip to Abu Dhabi.  With it, shards of very good Parmigiano-Reggiano. Not bad at all for a rained-out parade day.  The combination of the dates and parm was truly outstanding and a radically fabulous way to end a meal.

Tonight we are going to our friends' house, also in Garrison, who are making one of their favorite recipes -- which happens to be mine -- but I'm dying to try their version. It's a three-ingredient pot roast made with pounds of red onions and dry vermouth.  Can't wait.  Thank you to Diana Carulli and Bryan Dunlap.

And Happy July 4th to all.