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Archive for October, 2008


Witch Hat Pumpkin Ravioli

The past couple of days have been rough. I’ve been in curled up in bed with all the goodie pre-symptoms the common cold has to offer: sinus pressure, sneezing and I’ll spare you the phlegmy details. Today will be a short post since I’ve only got a couple of hours to prepare myself for the army of trick-or-treaters screaming for obscene amounts of sugary sweets. It’s my first Halloween in this neighborhood so we’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I couldn’t pass up celebrating Halloween on my blog either. It seems like everywhere I click there are amazingly ghoulish culinary masterpieces on display. Keeping with the whole Mediterranean theme of my blog, I decided to go with an Italian inspired dish. The pretty pumpkin you see below was one of the many gifts I got while I was at the Beekman and it was perfect for what I had in mind. So without further ado, I present to you my Black Witch Hat Pumpkin Ravioli.

The recipe will come soon (depending on my cold and how many kids come pounding at my door). 

mise en place
a hint of nutmeg
halloween nonna-style
rolling the dough
Italian assembly line
ravioli workflow
Witch Hat Ravioli
Witch Hat Ravioli
Pumpkin Filled Squid Ink Ravioli
Pumpkin Filled Squid Ink Ravioli

UPDATE (11/1/2008)

There weren’t as many trick-or-treaters last night as I had expected, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I tended to my cold by drinking plenty warm chai and cozily reading in bed. Now I’m on my way out the door, but wanted to post the recipe for the ravioli before I left.

I also want to submit this entry to Jeanne from Cook Sister for this round of Waiter, There’s Something In My… Jeanne is calling for all bloggers to show their gourd love this season. I hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween! Ciao!

Witch Hat Pumpkin Ravioli

 makes approx 50 ravioli

Components

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 small pumpkin
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of cloves
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • squid ink (or black food coloring)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • egg wash, 1 egg and a little milk

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut the pumpkin in half and clean out the cavity of the pumpkin. Cut side down, bake both pumpkin halves until they are tender and you can poke your knife with very little resistance (approx. 45 minutes).
  3. Make the pasta dough by creating a well with the flour and slowly incorporating the eggs and squid ink to form a dough.
  4. Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until ready to use.
  5. Once the pumpkin has finished cooking, scoop out the flesh and process in the food processor along with the goat cheese and spices. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.
  6. In the same sheet tray, spread pumpkin mixture and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes so that the excess liquid in the pumpkin puree is allowed to evaporate. 
  7. Refrigerate the mixture until cooled and ready to use.
  8. Using a pasta machine, roll out your dough into long sheets and scoop 1/2 tsp of the chilled filling in 1 inch intervals, giving you room to seal the edges. (see photo)
  9. Brush a little egg wash around the edges of the filling and cover with another sheet of pasta. Seal the ravioli sheets carefully, making sure no air bubbles get trapped inside.
  10. Boil the ravioli for 5-6 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.
  11. For the sauce, melt the butter and sage in a small saute pan. Brown the butter carefully, making sure it does not burn.
  12. Toss the ravioli in the sauce and enjoy!

note: If you can’t find squid ink or don’t particularly care for it, you can substitute it for black food coloring. If you don’t want or don’t have time to make your own ravioli, store bough butternut squash ravioli work great with this sauce and are perfect for any autumn dinner. 

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

My perfect weekend at the Beekman

Last weekend I checked out from reality and drove to upstate New York to visit my friends at the Beekman. Only a couple hours north of Cornell, I also decided to visit some friends I left behind in Ithaca post-graduation. Everything about this trip was magical, from the gorgeous multicolored foliage that surrounded the highways to the great time I spent with my friends – this was a weekend worth blogging about.

paradise
paradise

day 1

Luck was on my side as I drove up north; on two separate occasions a simple hand gesture from New York State troopers signaled to slow me down, as opposed to their usual merciless speeding fines and lectures. Even better would have been to avoid the encounters altogether, but I was content with the small slap on the wrist. The rest of the drive couldn’t have been better, no deers jumped out in front of me (one of my biggest fears) and my ipod survived the entire trip, a miracle in and of itself.

While I was in Ithaca, I made an obligatory stop at Wegmans (aka my second home while I was in college) and had two lunches with friends, followed by a quick coffee date before getting back on the road. As soon as I arrived at the Beekman, Brent and Josh greeted with even more food. My stomach was telling me no more, but my mouth instinctively kept going for more of the creamy pumpkin risotto and peppery arugula and raspberry salad. Everything, except the short grain rice, was from their garden. I blog about these seemingly minute details because the flavors brought me back to when I was visiting Italy and the Middle East last winter. Although the ingredients were anything but pretty, their flavors were spot on. The arugula leaves were different sizes and carried a real peppery bite as opposed to the pale flavor that I’ve come to associate with the generic 6 oz bags at the supermarket. We finished our wine in front of the fire place and quietly enjoyed our slice(s) of Josh’s ridiculously good apple tarte tatin. It was the perfect ending to my first night at the Beekman.

last raspberry of the season — what a trooper
last raspberry of the season

day 2

I was forewarned that today was going to be lots of work, but I was ready to work off my gluttony from the previous day. When I entered the kitchen, the fireplace was already lit and Josh was working on getting breakfast on the table. I swear I did more than just eat that entire weekend. We had a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, pork sausage, and goat yogurt; all from the farm, of course. By this point, I was convinced I was going to get a farm of my own one day.

Then came the work. By 8:30am we were outside picking the remaining apples to make fresh cider. One deceptive-looking tree produced seven (COUNT: 7!) bushels of apples. We separated the pretty round apples for pies and desserts and the rest were loaded onto the truck for cider. Josh set some goat meat to braise for dinner, then we headed over to the local apple orchard to press our hand-picked beauties into cider.

apples from one tree
bushels of apples
ready to make fresh cider
apples in water
apples float, but pears don’t (fun fact)
floating apples
artisan cider-maker (15 yrs experience)
making cider
fresh cider
fresh cider
capping at lightening speed
capping cider

37 gallons of fresh apple cider and a few apple donuts later, we loaded everything into the truck and returned for an early start at dinner. As soon as we walked through the door we were welcomed by the warm aroma of braised goat that Josh had set in the oven before leaving.

After having played with the goats earlier that morning, I thought I would have second thoughts about enjoying a plate of braised goat for dinner. Not really. After having read Omnivores Dilemma, I was happy to see the goats on the Beekman farm roam freely in a field as opposed to the clustered and inhumane industrial settings most animals are subject to. These were happy goats. It also helped, of course, that I was completely detached and took no part in the butchering process.

the cutest goats
goats

While the goat continued to braise, we went to the garden and picked some fresh vegetables for dinner. It was easy, almost effortless. We ate what was seasonably available and that was that. No qualms about genetically modified produce or harsh pesticides. I rolled up my sleeves and helped pull some fresh parsnips from the ground and we also plucked some fava beans to accompany the goat. The parsnips were roasted and mashed with lots of butter and goat milk to make a creamy, cloud-like parsnip puree, while the fava beans were quickly sauteed in some bacon fat and minced onions. We polished off the meal with plenty of hard apple cider that has been stored in the Beekman cellar since last year and got ready for a night out.

shelling fresh fava beans
fava beans

After dinner, Brent and Josh gave me a tour of the town and we picked up some local ice cream for a quick dessert. Of course, ice cream alone wasn’t going to be enough. Brent served up the ice cream with homemade cajeta sauce, which is a traditional Mexican caramel sauce similar to dulce de leche. The Beekman cajeta, though, was anything but traditional; jalapeños were steeped in goat milk, that was then used as the base for the cajeta. The combination of the spicy aftertaste in the caramel paired with the cold and velvety ice cream was one of those flavor profiles that made perfect sense.

day 3

On the last day of my perfect weekend, we relaxed. I knew I had a long drive ahead of me and didn’t want to get stuck driving at night and miss out on the gorgeous  scenery upstate New York has to offer. At the same time, I didn’t want to leave the farm. We went outside after breakfast where I got to play with the goats one last time; and then Brent and Josh took me on a walk around the entire Beekman property. We were walking for thirty minutes until I realized we were back where we started. Then it was time to go.

Before I left, they showered me with edible gifts from their garden that I will be using in my next post. I also got to take with me bars of their homemade goat milk and olive oil soap that I’ve been using incessantly since I got back. Seriously, I wouldn’t let anything else get near my hands now – it’s that freaking good! Since I have no recipe for you today, I’ll leave you with more pretty pictures from my amazing weekend. I’ll try to load the rest onto flickr soon, but you know how work can get in the way. I think I need another weekend getaway soon…

looking up from paradise
yellow fall leaves
my favorite shy goat
shy goat
wild grapes
wild grapes

Divine Culinary Intervention

"Tony, you just ate 1200 calories worth of bread." 
-Jess Park

I rediscovered Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe a couple weeks ago. It was Wednesday evening and there it was, idly sitting in my RSS feed, waiting to be double-clicked: Faster No-Knead Bread. Mark Bittman had just blogged about a quicker variation of the original recipe he featured in the NYT in 2006. I never got around to making this bread when it first came out. Originally, I sided with the skeptical foodies who wanted no part in this trendy no-knead fad. For me, the foundation of bread was all in the traditional kneading techniques and no post in the NYT was going to change that. But, many successful minimalist recipes later, Mark had made a believer out of me. I took Mark’s recent post as a sign of divine culinary intervention and decided to give this no-knead method a try. 

Before I could experiment with any quicker variations though, I thought it would only be right to try Jim’s original 24-hour, no-knead recipe, first. There was no mise en place, or anything of that nature. Like I said, it was a Wednesday evening, after work, and I was only surfing the web to procrastinate my inevitable visit to the gym (nothing unusual). I went down to the kitchen, mixed the flour, water, yeast and salt, covered it and went about my workout. 

foodie magnifying lens
air pockets

I couldn’t concentrate at work the following day. I was eager to see if time had done its job in creating the much desired gluten proteins that usually require 15+ minutes of intense kneading to develop. As soon as I got home and stepped foot in my kitchen I was greeted by the intoxicating aroma of yeast belch – it was glorious. After 18 hours I uncovered the well-rested dough and took a deep breath of the bakery scent that was being propagated from within.

The next step in the recipe was to invert the dough onto a floured surface and fold it onto itself. Then I placed it seam side down onto a cornmeal dusted cotton towel and allowed it to enter its final rising stage, just like in the video. This time, I was able to make it to the gym without any resistance – I knew that as soon as I got home, I would be less than an hour away from carbohydrate heaven!

very sticky dough
sticky dough
homemade artisan bread
artisan bread

I pre-heated the oven as soon as I got home from the gym and immediately hopped into the shower so as to not disrupt the final rising stage. After 45 minutes of baking in a 550 degree oven, I was rewarded with my most successful loaf of homemade bread.

great crumb structure
crumb structure

I was like a proud father. I embraced my inner bread geek and admired the crispy crust and delicate crumb structure of the bread. Apparently none of my friends know what I am talking about (ahem, ahem, Mike), but crumb structure refers to the different size pockets of air inside the bread; the more of those there are, the better.

mise en place
mise en place

I couldn’t leave you guys without a mise en place photo though. In celebration of all things minimalist, I decided to enjoy the bread with some high quality extra virgin olive oil and traditional balsamic vinegar that I brought with me from Modena.

a few drops of good quality balsamic
balsamic vinegar

This is not the usual balsamic that you’ll find on the shelf of your local grocery store. At about 80 euros a pop, this stuff is as close as you can get to liquid gold. Traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena is only produced by a select number of families that have passed on the tradition from generation to generation. I got my bottle from L’Acetaia di Giorgio, where they invited me for an afternoon and showed me the entire process for making their vinegar. While I was there Giorgio showed me a batch that he started 22 years ago that he named Carlotta, after his daughter, which he will later use as her dowry – a tradition amongst most balsamic vinegar producing families. If you’re planing to go to Italy in the near future, I definitely recommend contacting Consorzio di Aceto Balsamico di Modena (CABM – the association for balsamic vinegar producing families) who can then put you in touch with one of their members for a private tour.

life’s simple pleasures
homemade bread

This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy bread right out of the oven. Hence the quote from my friend Jess who, “for fun”, calculated how many calories of bread I had eaten in a two-day window. I figure it’s all good because I work it all off at the gym… right? Have you guys tried any of the no-knead recipes? What have your experiences been with the bread? Send me links to your post if you’ve blogged about it, I’d love to read some of the variations!

No-Knead Bread

Jim Lahey’s Recipe

Components

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 5/8 cups water 
  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

Putting them all together

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Cover the dough and let rest from 12-18 hours at room temperature.
  2. You’ll know the dough is ready because the surface will be dotted with bubbles. On a lightly floured surface, invert the dough and fold it over itself once or twice. Make sure your hands are also coated with flour because the dough will be very sticky at this point. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.
  3. Gently and quickly form the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel, sprinkle with more flour, wheat bran or cornmeal and cover loosely with another cotton towel.  
  4. Preheat your oven and cooking vessel (cast-iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) to 550 degrees. 
  5. After the dough has risen for 2 more hours and has doubled in size, invert the dough into the preheated cooking vessel so that it bakes seam side up.
  6. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown.
  7. Cool on a rack.

note: The dipping oil is simply extra virgin olive oil, high quality balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

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The Cookies the Doctor Prescribed

When I was a kid I was baffled by the cruel idea that anything full of flavor was supposed to be unhealthy. Never mind where babies came from, I was more concerned with philosophical questions like, why ice cream tastes better than my steamed broccoli? And until I developed an appreciation for veggies and the usual suspects, my nutrition primarily came in the form of Flintstones chewable multivitamins and vegetables strategically hidden in my food, something my mom was an expert at.

While I was in Italy this past winter I came across these curiously ugly cookies that stood out among the gorgeous layered cakes and tempting pastries. Not only were these cookies pretty ugly, but they weren’t cheap either; and had it not been for the three consecutive customers that ordered them in front of me, I would have probably never discovered the wonders of brutti ma buoni, which literally translated means, ugly but good.

mise en place

Imagine a decadent cookie that is crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and has no added fat or flour! It sounds unnatural, almost sacrilege, but these traditional Tuscan cookies are pure genius. All their fat comes from the natural oils in the nuts and are they’re cleverly held together by nothing more than beaten egg whites.

it’s like magic

Traditionally, these cookies only had hazelnuts and maybe a few almonds, but I like the combination of the different nuts. You can use any combination you prefer as long as hazelnuts remain in the picture. The neat trick that I tried* to demonstrate via my 3-step diagram is to roast the hazel nuts in a 350 degree F oven for 15-20 minutes; then spread them over a clean kitchen towel, cover them, and rub them against each other. You’ll notice some of the nuts are stubborn and hold on to their skins for their dear lives. The best (and most enjoyable) solution to this is to bake more than you need and eat the ones that don’t cooperate.

crushed, but slightly coarse

Before the days of shiny and pretty kitchen appliances, Italians would crush the nuts using a mortar and pestle and whisk their egg whites by hand. Sounds outrageous, right? But back then when you said you were cooking, you were really cooking. Today you can use what you want to get that same semi-fine texture on the nuts and stiff peaks on the egg whites.

mounds of nutty-chocolate goodness

In order for the mainly egg white batter to come together, you have to cook it over medium low heat before baking it. Once the batter thickens you can scoop it onto a sheet pan and bake the cookies in the oven until they’re crispy on the outside and crunchy and chewy on the inside.

a look inside

I don’t think it’s humanly possible to resist a freshly baked batch of cookies cooling on a rack. They’re so soft and delicate at this point that eating them becomes effortless, which could be dangerous.

brutti ma buoni

I wasn’t joking around when I said these cookies were ugly! You can imagine how these stood out against their dainty neighbors on display at the patisserie. The traditional recipe doesn’t even call for cocoa powder, but I feel like the chocolate/hazelnut combo is one that can’t be passed up.

Although these cookies are probably healthier than your average butter/flour-saturated cookies, they’re not an invitation for gluttony. These cookies still have plenty of sugar and should be eaten in moderation, like all foods. And that’s precisely what I’ve come to realize since my veggie-avoiding years as a child. Flavor along with all its associated “unhealthiness” should not be avoided, but rather enjoyed in moderate amounts.

Brutti Ma Buoni

approx 18 cookies

Components

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, peeled
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup almonds, peeled
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • zest of an orange
  • zest of a lemon
  • 2 tsp frangelico (or any nut liqueur/extract)
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder, dutch process
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt

Putting them all together

  1. Toast the nuts until golden brown and allow to cool.
  2. Whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak.
  3. Mix the nuts with the sugar and pulse in a food processor until you reach a semi-fine consistency.
  4. Fold in all the ingredients into the whisked egg whites (carefully so as to not lose too much volume).
  5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  6. In a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, cook the mixture until slightly thick 20-25 minutes. This will yield a thicker batter that won’t flatten out in the oven.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake the cookies at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until dry on the outside and still slightly moist and chewy on the inside.

note: These cookies are perfect gifts for the upcoming holiday season. Pretty packaging for these cookies is a must, though.

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a twist on an all American classic

I have no clue what it is about a couple slices of bread, some good quality cheese and a dab of fat that enables the humble grilled cheese to stand a chance in today’s culinary colosseum, but it does. As much as I consider myself a foodie and lover of all things gourmet, sometimes I don’t want fois gras topped with caviar and doused with fancy white truffle oil – no, thanks. Give me a couple grilled cheeses, a big bowl of soup and a Law & Order marathon (SVU or CI, of course) and I’m a happy camper. The star of this post is the ubiquitous grilled cheese and all the ooey, gooey, mouth-burning goodness that it brings to this world. 

Judging from the loads of fall recipes overflowing our RSS feeds, and by the mere fact that it’s no longer sunny all the time, fall is here. I’d be remiss as a food blogger not to share with you one of my ultimate culinary gems: Middle Eastern grilled cheese sandwiches.

mise en place
mise en place

Before you click away frustrated because you don’t know where to find Armenian string cheese, don’t fret. These days you can find it in most major grocery stores, usually hidden away in their cheese department. Middle Eastern stores will also carry some if you happen to have any around your neighborhood. Some perfectly suitable substitutes also include Halloumi (Greek cheese), Queso Blanco (Spanish “white cheese”) or any semi-firm white cheese.

Middle Eastern/Armenian String Cheese (جبنة مشلشلة)
Middle Eastern/Armenian String Cheese

Now for those who are lucky enough find this cheese locally, this is what you’ll likely get; a pearly white braided cheese studded with Nigella seeds, or حبة البركة in Arabic, which translated literally means “seed of blessing.” In the Middle East this seed serves medicinal purposes and is even considered an anti-parasitic, hence its name. But its unique flavors alone are enough to win me over.

dried mint
dried mint

The second component of this Middle Eastern grilled cheese is the dried mint, which of course, also serves medicinal purposes. If anyone ever got a tummy ache, signs of a fever or any such symptoms in my house growing up, my mom would be there to make them one of these sandwiches alongside a mug of warm chai (Middle Eastern Tea). In short, these grilled cheeses are nothing short of amazing.

olive oil instead of butter
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

As most of you know, after Executive Culinary Order 2924-5, it is against the law for the preparation of a grilled cheese sandwich to go over the 5-minute prep mark. This variation is no exception. From the time your craving strikes to the time you’re screaming in blissful pain because you anxiously bit in too soon, is less than 5 minutes – 4 if you practice.

perfect with hot tea
Middle Eastern Grilled Cheese

You absolutely do not need a panini press to make these sandwiches. Any method you’ve used in the past will probably work perfectly. Just be sure to make it under 5 minutes and don’t burn your mouth.

Middle Eastern Grilled Cheese

makes 1 sandwich

Components

  • 1 pita bread, with pockets
  • Armenian String Cheese*
  • dried mint
  • extra virgin olive oil

Putting them all together

  1. Place the slices of cheese inside your pita.
  2. Sprinkle with dried mint and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Grill/broil/panini press until golden brown and cheese is melted.

notes: Whole Foods, Wegmans and other major grocery stores should have the Armenian string cheese. You can also look for it online or at any Middle Eastern market.

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it’s not a grilled cheese without stringy cheese
string cheese