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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Top of the Muffin to You!

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like a muffin—its almost-cake-like texture makes it feel like a guilty pleasure. (I’m looking at you red velvet muffins with cream cheese icing!) Cranberries and blueberries make delicious muffins too. Bananas, chocolate chip, apple, plain honey are all wonderful with a big steaming cuppa something warm. Even plain cornbread muffins, slightly toasted with a pat of butter, are pure perfection! (Although in terms of perfection, there’s a maple bacon corn muffin that I still have to try.)

Remember the Seinfeld episode referencing the top of the muffin as an excellent pastry delicacy…

Traditionally, American muffins have been on the sweet side – somewhere between dessert and a snack or a breakfast food.

The past few years have seen a proliferation of kitchen anarchists who have taken their muffin pans and turned it into something else altogether. Savory muffins are great breakfast food for folks on the go, but they also represent sturdy and tasty picnic items as well as buffet/buffet finger foods. They travel well, mostly, so they are perfect for brown bagging and kid’s lunch boxes.

Breakfast-for-dinner turns into a different kind of culinary adventure when you have a savory muffin (with a salad and a good bottle of wine)!

For recipe, visit the Pinterest board or go here.

The muffin pan affords the cook a freedom beyond the cake-like base. You can use other grains to form your muffin—from brown rice to quinoa. You can even line the pan in bacon and let that become the foundation for the morsel of yum. Shredded veggies or mashed beans may substitute for crust for the vegans.

Vegetables can be used in a dizzying array of ways, as well as spices and herbs. And if you do not eat meats or seafood, legumes and mushrooms fit well into the compact food.

Mac and cheese as a muffin!

Muffins tins have uses beyond muffins (like filled tiny pies, stuffed wontons), and we’ll explore that later, but for now I’ve curated a few dozen recipes (some repeats with interesting substitutions) that you may want to consider adding to your repertoire – whether for large get-togethers or your own romantic dining pleasure.

Visit the Pinterest board for recipes ranging from 
cheddar and bacon to chili eggplant to pea and chorizo muffins.

Savory muffins will make for an interesting change of pace and an elegant or fun dish. You can keep it healthy or make it richer with the right toppings (anything from a dollop of sour cream to whipped feta).

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Essential Pantry

As long as I can remember, I have always lived in a house. I have joked about it, but people who grew up in apartments don’t always get it.
I cannot live without a dining room.
Admit it: you just called me bougie under your breath...

I need a dining room! Not a nook off a sunroom or a breakfast table in the kitchen, and certainly not half a kitchen island outfitted with barstools and…I don’t even know what to call that. I need a formal dining room—with a dining table and adult chairs (nothing plastic or previously used by The Rock as a defensive weapon in Wrestlemania).

But even with a dining room, space in any home is limited. In a perfect world, we could all afford enormous homes with kitchens so big you could hold parties in there! And the kitchen would extend to an outdoor patio, but I regress.

I’ve always had enough cabinet space to accommodate house staples, current culinary whims as well as our developing palate. What would be ideal is if we could have one more room--perhaps the size of our hallway closet--for a walk-in pantry.

I blame Chef Michael Smith (we’ve caught old episodes of his Chef at Home show) and I now have pantry envy.

Alas, we can’t just have everything we want. What kind of world would it be if we were all waltzing about happy?!

Most of us have a bare-necessity pantry with the ingredients and condiments we use more often. The bakers have a more extensive pantry. And then, there’s the daring whose palate goes beyond pub food—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Even if you can’t afford to maintain a full pantry of all the flavors you’d like, if you want to experiment with styles, you need to understand the palate necessary and the elements that will get you there. Perhaps you too have limited space, so pick what you love, master it, treat it lovingly and create deliciousness.

Greatist has a great article to help you create flavor profiles for your favorite cuisines. Certainly we have all tried our hand at creating an Italian seasoning mix (whether to top pizza, flavor a sauce, or roasted chicken). This article also offers spice combinations for Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, and Thai cuisines.

This infographic from Women’s Health includes spice blends that can aid in weight loss:

By cuisine (not meant to be a complete list), try these links: African (not sorted by country or region), Caribbean, Chinese, Cuban, Greek, Italian/Tuscan, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Jewish/Sephardic, Kenyan, Korean, Latin American (general), Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern/Persian, Moroccan, Peruvian, Spanish, Syrian, Thai, Vietnamese...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Pizza is the Only Love Triangle I Want

Pizza is magic. To me the word pizza always conjured New York, or at least escape from my life to the magical kingdom of my birth (and the pull to return to New York was a life-long instinct).

I grew up in Puerto Rico and back in the days I was living there, there were not a lot of pizzerias nearby–not that I was allowed to hangout or eat junk food (and, certainly, my grandmother would define pizza as “junk”).

I think the first slice of pizza I ever had was from a shop in the Bronx and I was about five. I’m pretty sure it was after a visit to the Bronx Zoo. That I remember it so clearly lends credence to it being the precedent. The memory may have more to do with the fact that I’d spend a whole day involved in a wild adventure with Mom. But the memory is also very specific about the flaky crust, the tangy sauce and its melodic marriage with cheese.

But I distinctly remember slices of pizza from little Italy, from Coney Island, from the theater district, from Wall Street, from the Yupper East Side and from El Barrio, from the West Side and from Chelsea. Each slice heaven in its own right.

I have great memories of pizza runs in Jersey City – where I almost relocated when I was 11 years old. One of my cousin’s classmates worked at the pizzeria on the way to school, Journal Square, McCrory’s, the movies, the roller skating rink, or even the record store (if you veered a few times).

When I moved back to New York, Brooklyn pizza loomed large in my social life because apparently there is a level of freedom teenagers attach to their ability to hang out at a pizzeria. You meet there after school, you take your dates there, and you wind down movie night at the pizzeria. Pizza is a self-contained food group for growing high school boys!

In college, leaving campus for a slice of pizza across the tracks from the Long Island Railroad was a special treat. As students, we had to pool our limited cash reserves to meet the munchies, and sometimes resorted to calling an order to non-existing rooms or wings at the dorms so we could “grab” the “undeliverable” pizza at a discount.

Then, when I started working and we moved to Bay Ridge, I ended up in an area where you had a church and pizzeria in almost every other block! In the city, I tried to taste pizza in every new neighborhood I visited. 

And yes, we visited every Ray’s Pizza, had a slice in each, and danced back to each establishment for good measure (though in that battle the true winner was John’s but that’s old news; you may read about that whole kerfuffle here).

I once had pizza in Connecticut but I wasn’t impressed (somewhere in the vicinity of the naval submarine base). Though the first time I had pizza in Boston it was awesome – delicious and magical, a white Christmas made better by a slice that was a meal in itself! I had a slice in Vermont. It was okay. I think there was a quick slice in Rhode Island, but it was just alright. I had a slice in Montreal and that one was pretty tasty (beat the heck out of Connecticut).

There are at least two dozen pizzerias within walking distance and plenty more that deliver (not Domino’s but mom and pop shops that have been part of our community). There is a Papa John’s next door to a pizzeria that has been in the neighborhood over 30 years (how rude is that?!).

Now that we have a bread machine, I intend to make my own pizza dough, and it occurred to me that I need not be limited in pizza any more than I allow in other favorite dishes. My first pizza has been on stand-by as we’re curtailing dairy for the moment. Instead of the traditional red sauce, the planned pie included ricotta with spinach and artichokes and sausage, Mozzarella and shaved Gouda.

Of course, I started collecting some fun recipes that I want to try (alternate sauces to the traditional, meat red sauce). I realize not all of you will have a bread machine, so I have tried to provide variety in as many ways as possible (you can use already made dough or improvise, create plant-based doughs, pizza invites creativity). Go check it out! Let’s make pizza. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

May All Your Meals Be Comforting

We began the year with an apple Dutch baby for our first meal. A rainy day gave us all the excuse we needed to break out a heaping bowl of pea soup with some crusty bread.

We began the year with comfort food.

New Year’s Day is a quiet day for us, and for me, the truly important day is the second because it is Mom’s birthday.

For her brunch, I made her a plain omelet with scallions and fresh cracked pepper, topped with sour cream and roe, and toasted onion rolls with a schmear of butter.

For dinner, I made a simple, savory chicken dish. We have a green bean salad in a mustard sauce in the fridge that will last us a few more weeks. 

Mom’s Birthday Chicken
Skinless chicken breasts (3-5 lbs.)

Seasoned Flour
¾ cup flour
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon powdered chicken bullion
Pepper (to taste)

2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes (chopped)
1 tablespoon capers (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (sliced one along its longer side and then lie flat and slice into matchsticks; cut other two cloves in half and reserve)
Feta (crumble about ½ cup or more, to taste)

¼ cup chicken broth (with a dash of lemon juice)

The chicken was clean, so all I had to do was to cut the breasts in half. I started heating my cast iron pan, medium high heat, as I put together the seasoned flour. It is important to have a hot pan when you get ready to start cooking (and I used vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan). The moment the oil starts shimmering, I place the chicken in a sealable bag and shake it to flour. Then I place about half the chicken in the pan. I like to sear in ample space.

As the chicken cooks, I chop the toppings and put them aside. I leave the chicken between 3-5 minutes on each side depending on size (you will see the meat turn an opaque white as it cooks and the flour will turn into a golden crust).

After searing both batches, I place all the chicken in the pan. I place tomatoes and capers in the empty spaces between the chicken as well as the garlic halves. The slivers of garlic go over the chicken and the feta over it. Finally, add broth and cover. Lower heat to medium low and let it cook in the liquid and steam in its own juices for about 10 minutes.

The garlic will literally melt into the chicken. The Feta does not completely melt, so there will be specs of it, with its accompanying tart saltiness. You can add fresh cracked pepper as you serve, or add a dash of fresh lemon juice to the pan sauce. Use the back of a spoon to crush the garlic halves—it will taste like roasted  garlic without the effort and thicken the sauce.

Add the waves ambient sound and pretend you're the exclusive clients on some cliffside bistro...

If you are cutting back on salt intake, the capers and feta will have some, so you can use water and lemon juice for the chicken stock. You may skip the powdered stock to season the flour, simply add more herbs, garlic and pepper to season. You can also use a couple tablespoons of grated Parmesan in the flour (it adds a little salt and a slightly nutty taste).

Serve with a side of couscous, egg noodles, steamed rice, or smashed potatoes.

Save some of the liquid (a couple of tablespoons), some tomato and capers along with a couple of pieces of chicken. Use the liquid and veggies to season mayo for sandwiches. You can also slice the chicken and toss into a macaroni salad for a brown bagged lunch.

Finally, instead of cake, we shared a pack of Trader Joe’s French macarons (which we recommend if you do not have a French bakery nearby). Crispy and delicious, and distinctly flavorful. There's a great review here.

Here’s wishing you a year full of great meals!

Friday, December 23, 2016

All Sorrows are Less with Bread

"I got a lotta problems with you people, 
and now you're going to hear about it!" 
(Relax... I think we’ll bypass the Airing of Grievances this year, or we’ll be here till Easter!)

It has been a challenging year for most of us in a number of ways. There is no looking back at 2016 without some scarring. It is imperative, then, we find a thing – no matter how seemingly trivial – to hang on to and say, “Ah, but THIS!!! This made it all pale in comparison…”

But a year that insists on throwing death and destruction at you kills the vibe every time you have it within grasp. It’s as if the whole world suddenly started signing Robbie Williams’ “Feel”:

I sit and talk to God
And he just laughs at my plans

We are resilient, though, and refuse to go down without a fight. With mere weeks to close out one of the most monstrous years in memory, a friend sent us an unexpected Festivus gift. It was a bread maker. I never considered a bread maker. But then, Cervantes wrote that "All sorrows are less with bread." Obviously, this gift is the thing to grab and make it the one point of bliss for 2016.

Mom made a few Stromboli, but she doesn’t like working with active yeast. Although I love the idea of making bread, am often annoyed by the inordinately complicated and long process. I am not the baker in the family...

Like Oprah, though, I love bread. 
Oh hush, you know you love bread too! 

We have great bakeries in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. And the bread display at Trader Joe’s is a thing of fragrant beauty!


If I’m honest, I do not expect 2017 to be a significant improvement from 2016, and the true beauty of the bread maker is that I’ll be able to maintain our love of bread without having to pay the increasingly ridiculous prices for specialty breads. (Though I also suspect that 2017 will be the year the gym becomes an awfully real thing because between the ice cream machine and the bread maker… OMG, thunder hips! Sure, more to love, but hell on the furniture.)

I think the thing Mom appreciates more than anything is the absence of active yeast and the chance of living the “Feed the bish!” episode from Anthony Bordain’s “Kitchen Confidential” in our own kitchen.

Thank you for keeping us with our irregular contributions here and on Twitter this year. Let’s hope we can share a lot more goodies in the next year! I’m starting one more Pinterest board for recipes I want to try in our bread maker (I’ll let you know how it works out, of course), and you are free to join me in the quest for the perfect loaf/bun/baguette...

If you celebrate, happy holidays! If you do not celebrate, remember that breaking bread with your fellows (whether family, friends, or neighbors) is a celebration of your own humanity. 

In 2017, no matter how hard life and the universe connive, 
please continue to assert your humanity!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Break Bread not Each Other

In ten days, it will be Thanksgiving in the U.S. This is the quintessential American family holiday. It has been so established that Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” still features prominently in the nation’s psyche.

And that holiday unleashes the proverbial “holiday season” that includes a variety of sacred days to a handful of religions plus cultural celebrations, all trying to elicit unity and peace and goodwill. Celebrations may include St. Nicholas’ Day, St. Lucia’s Day, the winter solstice, Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day, Festivus, Hogswatch, Pancha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Soyal, Hanukkah, Yule, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Year’s…

Sadly, this year there is additional political strife that threatens to take over our lives in their entirety.

Perhaps you may want to consider traveling to any of the states that have approved recreational marijuana, and call any pipe a ceremonial one, share some weed and make peace. 

Pick a state: Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, or the District of Columbia. Phish background music optional.

(My apologies to Native Americans for the cultural appropriation— 
especially as we end the year about to break yet another treaty.)

I hope that we can remember that there are still many things we can be grateful and thankful for, and that we have more incentives to come together than justifications for disunity.

Whether you make a turkey or tofurky, break bread with a pure heart and remember to be good to one another. Whether you celebrate with family, friends, or offering your presence to those who need a helping hand, give the empathy you expect.

I am not asking you to let go of your principles, but simply that you halt hostilities long enough to share a meal and build each other up rather than tear each other apart.

Share a basket of delicious breadsticks!

Fight the power, if you must, but never lose track of the fact that you can do that without attacking one another. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Find the way.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Creepy Cuisine: Cat Soup

¿Sopa de gato? The first time I heard someone reference the dish, I was incredulous, so I repeated it. ¿Sopa de gato?

I thought about it for a moment. Cat soup? Cat soup?! Maybe they meant some hipster thing where someone actually was marketing soup for cats. It had to be! The alternative was horrifying.

¿Sopa de gato?

Not sure whether it’d be worse if it turned into some sort of racist rant or a sick joke about cruelty to animals, the images it conjured were truly horrific.

But it turns out that sopa de gato (literally cat soup) is neither soup nor made of kittens. Legend has it that the dish was born out of blockades created while the city of Cádiz was besieged by marauding pirates. In my mind, I summarized that the pirates created the cat soup, because it was a lot to take in while in a state of culinary shock...

(Obviously, I thought to myself, these must have been male pirates, because female pirates would've understood the true value of a cat--beyond the witchy one--and never make soup out of them! And speaking of female pirates, if I do NaNoWrimo this year, I may be adding to my steampunkish tale and the time-travelling descendants of Granuaile. Just for fun, check out more about female pirates here

Cádiz is a port city in the south of Spain, a small peninsula surrounded by water, and as pirates attacked the town in the 16th century its residents were left with limited resources to feed themselves. You can make cat's soup as comfort food now, but then it was peasant food borne of necessity.

image source:

Sopa de Gato (Cat Soup)

3-5 cloves of garlic (or more to taste)
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing
1/2 loaf day old bread, sliced thinly
sea salt
water (about 5 tablespoons or more for a soggier version)
finely chopped parsley

In an oven-friendly saucepan or casserole, fry the slices of bread in olive oil until golden on both sides. In a separate pan, gently fry the garlic in more olive oil until pale gold, adding a little salt and water (or stock) after a minute or two to prevent the garlic from burning. (Some recipes call for the garlic to boil in the liquid.)

Pour the garlic mixture into the pan with the bread and place in a hot oven. Bake until the bread is golden. (I suggest baking at about 400-degrees for 5-8 minutes, or run under the broiler for 3-5 minutes.) 

Serve sprinkled with the parsley.

Andalusian Country Kitchen suggests enriching the dish by adding beaten eggs and sheep’s cheese stirred into the mixture before letting it bubble over in the oven.

Image source:

Essentially we are talking about bread slices, moistened by stock and seasoned by sautéed garlic—meant to fool the stomach into believing it had a full meal. But you need not stick to the original, meager recipe; you may add herbs and spices, and adorn the dish with shredded cheese or root vegetables, sprinkle with bacon bits or shredded carnitas. Be daring!

Image Source:

Why sopa de gato? Maybe they were trying to psyche out the pirates with the name (more horrifying than cannibals?). Maybe it was a misheard phrase and someone butchered sopa de ajo (garlic soup). I don’t really know. But admit it, that is one creepy dish to add to your Halloween menu!