Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Grandma and Your Grandma are Sitting by the Fire...

One of my fondest memories growing up was coming home after school and having my grandma cook me a "snack".   Now, I use the word "snack" loosely here because she would lovingly make me anything from last nights dinner leftovers to crepes with honey and lemon.  not to mention the muffins, cookies, and scone's she made about 3 times a week.  Because of her knack for making sweet, delicious, doughy treats she shaped much of my cooking acumen at a very tender age.  It was her who first told me that starch, not protein are the star of any Sunday dinner.  Her Yorkshire pudding was always in short supply, no matter how much she made.  Her roast potato's were made simply with just some oil and finished with salt.  Again, they were non-existent by the time desert hit the table.

I would like to think that grandma's have a sixth sense when it comes to cooking; I am sure mine has one.  My theory was recently put to test when my friend, Carlotta Longo, came over to share with me some of her nonna's pesto which she had shipped over from the Old Country, and an amazing recipe for pesto lasagna.  I have to say, the pesto was easily the best I have EVER tasted and the lasagna was equally as authentic and lick-your-plate delicious.

Food is the conduit of tradition; the passing down of years and years of trial, error, and tasting through a few short instructions and a list of ingredients.  These are the same tastes and smells that have been enjoyed by countless relatives and ancestors.  Food is what helps us get through tough times, it is what propels us into the good times, and it is almost always best when it is made by a grandma.

This post goes out to my grams, Carlotta's nonna, and all the wonderful grandmothers around the world making after school snacks for hungry kids.

Pesto Lasagna


6 medium zucchini, cut in half
1 bunch medium carrots, washed and scrubbed
8 - 10 small yellow-flesh potato's
8 cups pesto - recipe below
6 cups bechamel - recipe below
15 sheets of egg pasta, dry or fresh
6 cups grated parmigiano reggiano


1.  Salt a large pot of water and add potato's.  bring to a boil and add zucchini and carrots. boil for 7 minutes and remove zucchini.  boil for another 3 minutes and remove carrots.  boil for another 5 - 7 minutes and remove potato's.  cut all veg into a 1/2 inch dice mix in a large bowl and set aside to cool.

2.  Heat a pan with salted water and individually cook the dry pasta sheets until they just lose their brittleness, about 3 minutes.  Set each sheet aside on a clean kitchen towel.  As you finish with each sheet of pasta, set the resting sheet on a cooling rack.  stacking them is fine, too.  if you use fresh pasta, make sure it is wafer thin and skip this step.

3. Coat your vegetables and potato's with 1.5 to 2 cups of the pesto.  mix throughout, but don't over dress the veg.

4.  Turn your stove up to 400 degrees and let it warm. set up an assembly station with a 12"x7"x4" baking dish, pesto, bechamel, parmigiano, pasta, and veggies.  Layer in the following order: pasta, bechamel, pesto, cheese, pasta, bechamel ("just a little this time", i was told), pesto, vegetables, pesto (again, "just a little"), cheese, pasta, bechamel, pesto, cheese, pasta, bechamel, vegetables, pesto, cheese, pasta, cheese.

5. Use a paring knife to make holes in 3 or 4 rows across the lasagna to allow for the liquids to move around. cook for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and let stand for another 30 minutes.  serve.

Nonna Normanda's Pesto 
(Directly translated from her mouth to my blog...)

Ingredients for 6-8 people:
80-100 basil leaves
50 gr. Pecorino from Roma or Sardegna
50 gr. Fresh (not dry or already grated) Parmigiano Reggiano
100 gr Pine nuts
2-3 walnuts
1-2 Garlic cloves
Large grained sea salt


1. Wash the basil leaves and put them in the blender with a pinch of salt, the garlic, the pine nuts amd the walnuts. Add a bit of olive oil and blend.
2. Add the Parmigiano and the Pecorino.
3. Keep blending and adding oil until it is completely mixed and reaches a thick, creamy consistency.
Buon appetito

*as a note, please be aware that this is a raw, not cooked, sauce that should be made as close to this recipe as possible.  for the best results, use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find.  



1/2 a brick of butter
6 tablespoons of white flour
6 cups milk
3 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg


Over medium heat melt the butter.  once melted add the white flour and mix until smooth and cook for 3 minutes. In a separate pot heat the milk until it is not quite boiled.  Whisk the milk in one cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth and has NO LUMPS.  Bring the whole mixture to a boil, turn the heat to low, and stir continuously for 10 - 15 minutes, or until you cant taste any grit from the flour.  if it gets too thick, add a little more warm milk. Add salt and nutmeg, stir, and set aside until needed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Hommie, fellow Montrealer, and food bloger, Jessica Ianni puts out this little gem: http://puffybird.tumblr.com/

Its an all vegan blog, which is suspect, but she puts up good stuff so it gets a pass. shes also of Italian decent, so genetically she is inclined to make good food.

peep it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Dinner Party Revisited: How to Make it Not Suck

The main purpose of my blog was, and still is, to show my friends that cooking is easy. That they should do it more. I think it worked. I'm not sure, however, because no one (sauce mang being the exception) ever invites me over for dinner. If i know you and you are reading this, invite me over for dinner. I will even give you a step by step on how to do a proper dinner party.

1. Lets start with the basics: Clean your house. No one wants to go to your dirty apartment. Its not Buckingham Palace, but be proud of your castle, no matter how small or shitty. No one wants to eat in a dirty house.

2. Don't over crowd: Don't be afraid to say "no" to people. If you don't have enough food or space they will understand. if they don't, they are kinda dicks anyway, so its also a good screening method.

3. Vet your guestlist: make sure you know the vast majority of your guests, gauge their personalities, and don't invite conflicting people types. this is important. if you are a lone entertainer like me, you wont be around the whole time to keep the conversation flowing, so make sure your guests are going to have enough in common to keep everything fun.

4. Plan your menu: Dinner parties revolve around food. Make sure your planning considers time and rate of success. This is one of the reasons I almost always do a roast. its easy to prepare, very tasty if made right, and requires little work while cooking. Make sure that you have a protein, 2 different colored veggies, a starch, and i always like to include a salad for after. its very European.

5. Cook what you know: The night of the big show is not the time to be mixing it up and trying new things. Make the stuff that you could make in your sleep, or learn how to make something really good and easy before you take a shot at cooking for 6 of your besties. The first thing i learned how to cook was chicken parm, and it was the only thing i cooked for people for around 4 years.

6. Make sure everything is tasty and works well together: I hate HATE potlucks. Everyone brings one thing and i bet they dont follow most of the pointers on this blawg. you might get 2 soups, 1 curry dish, one mac and cheese, one bean dip... your mouth is all like, WTF. Curry and mac and cheese were never meant to be eaten together. ever. So make sure your menu complements itself. Sweet, savory, sour, salt.... soy and maple syrup on the pork roast, mustard fingerling potato's, basalmic and sugar on the green beans, butter/salt/pepper on the carrots. nothing fancy, but it all works.

7. More is better than less: Make sure you cook enough food. Proteins and starches are always what people want more of, so make sure you have lots of both of those. you want your guests to "eat and be well" as they say, so give them the chance to do that. This ties in with rule 2 as well.

8. Family style: don't plate your food for your friends. You are not as good at is as you may think, anyway. Now, I'm not trying to be harsh, but unless you have some kind of fine dining training, its not going to look as good as it will in your head. Just put lots of food into serving dishes (make sure you have some decent serving dishes) and allow your guests to portion themselves. this brings a sense of family to the table. You want your party to be less formal. It loosens everyone up and creates a more casual atmosphere.

There are some basics i didnt cover like music, wine, and plates and glasses, so make sure that you dont neglect to think about that stuff as well. I hope this helps and that I get lots of invitations to come to your house!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Traditional Christmas Breakfast...

There is something about the idea of heritage that really strikes a chord with me. My holidays are very much a celebration of heritage. My fathers mostly, but absolutely a family affair. As my family often liked to do things, it was a big deal. The whole celebration is focused around a huge breakfast of what one might call "old world" flavors. There is crusty bread, pickled onions, olives, hot and sweet Portuguese chorizo, Gin, and then as my aunt Joan calls it "de gyarlic pork". Garlic pork is made for Christmas breakfast at my house and the whole insane process is as follows.

a) chop up 40 or 50 cloves of garlic
b) layer a 3L or 4L jar with garlic, thyme, hot pepper, slices of uncooked pork, vinegar until it is full. seal the jar, leave it for 3 -5 days.
c) wake up at 5am on Christmas morning and boil the pork in the pickling juice, waking up everyone in the house with an equally terrifying and delicious smell of meat boiling in garlic pork juice. its intense.
d) remove the pork from the boiling pickling juice and fry it until golden on both sides.

The taste is briny, sweet, and savory from the thyme. It could be described as an acquired taste.

So all of this food usually makes it on the table for right before 10am, at which point somewhere between 20 to 40 relatives and family friends start pouring into the house. No joking. There were my brothers and sisters, and their families, my uncle Almindo, uncle Burnie, uncle John Vera, sometimes my uncle Joe, and my uncle John (who is the only actual real uncle out of that bunch of dudes). My dad would have a shot of Gin with all the guys and pass out by lunch time. then he would wake up a few hours later to make dinner. which obviously was a whole other affair that is worthy of its own blawg post sometime in the future.

in the theme of heritage, i want to shout out my girls Kat and Michelle who bought me a sweet Opinel knife for Christmas. its a great knife, with a rich 121 year history. goggle it.

The recipe im including is a riff on a classic French salad i saw someone make on a PBS show about 5 or 6 years ago. The original has baby potatoes, mustard, shallots, boiled egg, radicchio. i adapted it to make it a side for big roasts.

Mustard Potato's


1 pound red and yellow baby or fingerling potato's - washed
3 shallots - sliced thin
3 table spoons mustard Pommery or Dijon with the seeds
1/4 of a head of a radicchio, sliced as thin as you can
1 - 1.5 oz Grade A maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil for cooking


1. Boil the potato's in heavily salted boiling water for 15 minutes.

2. remove potato's from the water and set aside. they can sit for 20 mins to half an hour, as it should be a warm salad.

3. in a pan cook shallots in the olive oil over a low heat until fully caramelized.

4. add potatos, to the pan with the schallots and and remove from heat. combine all other ingredients and mix until covered.

serve as a side and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I can remember a time as a young boy when I was not allowed to cook. That is to say, I wanted to cook at a young age and so my parents had to actively keep me away from the oven and knives. The explanation of this was simple; my brother entered culinary school at the age of 18, at which point I was only 6 years old. Naturally, I wanted to do whatever big brother was doing... there was also the allure of a great deal of danger via the fire and sharp knives. I was instructed by ma dukes that I would be able to start cooking, on my own, at the age of 12. I can clearly remember the first thing I could actually cook in a pan, on the stove. Scrambled eggs. That became my life for a short time. Scrambled eggs for breakfast every day. "Dad, Mom, would you like some scrambled eggs". it was a big deal. Then i tried spaghetti. It took me about 4 or 5 tries of putting pasta into cold water and having it all stick together to get the idea to ask my mom how to do it properly. i put butter and parm cheese from a shaker on that shit and loved it. and thats how I learned how to cook. i started with the basics and fucked up a lot. along the way i learned a few things, watched a lot of the food channel and read some books and articles. now i can say with confidence, im a good cook. I encourage what few readers I have to do the same.

In that vain, I am posting one of the easiest recipes i know. Roasted Chicken and Potatos. this has to be one of the easiest things i know how to make because it involves only a small amount of prep and no stove top cooking at all.

Roast Chicken and Potato's


1 roasting chicken cut into 8 pieces
2 large or 4 medium potato's cut in 1.5 inch pieces
1 large sweet potato cut in 1.5 inch pieces
1 medium onion sliced thick
2 cloves garlic sliced
4 small sprigs of rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbl spoon olive oil


1. in a casserole dish combine the potato, sweet potato, onion, olive oil, thyme, and some s&p and toss to coat and mix.

2. add a generous amount of salt to the chicken pieces and lay them on top of the potato's skin side up. place rosemary on top of the chicken and cover. if you casserole has no lid, cover tightly with tin foil.

3. place the casserole dish in a 325 degree oven and cook for 1.5 - 2 hours, or until the tops of the chicken turn brown.

4. remove from the oven and let the dish cool down. add some salt and pepper if it needs it.

to serve, remove the herbs and use the liquid at the bottom of the dish as a sauce. it should be savory and slightly sweet from the sweet potato. enjoy

PS. in the pictures, you might notice some sausage. its great as I described above or with a little sausage, like the pics.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I have dinner parties, not pot lucks...

i sometimes have a hard time inviting people over to my house for supper. they want to try to mess up the game. i have people over for dinner a lot and i like to do things a certain way. I dont like help, and i dont want you to bring anything except a bottle of wine or some desert. i also hate when people try to wash my dishes. That's just the way we did it in my family. when you come to my house, you do no work, when i go to your house, I do no work. that was the rule. unless it was some kind of big party with the WHOLE side of my fathers family, in which case no one family could really produce enough food to feed that many people (my dads side of the family was a force of nature. There was soooo many people, and the holiday parties were often held in rented halls). I'm also not a fan of bringing stuff over to peoples houses. and i am mos def not doing your dishes. Dishes are a personal thing. you eat off of them. and everyone has their dishes ritual. some people... i should say, most people dont cut the mustard when it comes to my very specific set of standards that i apply to doing dishes. so if you come over for dinner, follow those two rules: dont bring food, and dont wash my dishes

now that i've gotten that out of the way, i would like to say that i think people like the idea of sharing the cooking tasks because they dont want to cook that much. they dont want to fuck up the sides or its just to much to think about. the best way to do that is to make easy side dishes that you can quickly ready, say, while your roast or steaks are resting. seeing as its summer and this is a quick and awesome side dish to do on the grill, i thought it was fitting.

Grilled Asparagus w. Mustard and Mayo

1 - fist sized bunch of asparagus (stalks removed)
2 - tbl spoons of mayo
1 - tbl spoon of Dijon mustard
1.5 - tsp of maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste


1. in a bowl mix mayo, mustard, maple syrup, salt and pepper. ready a very hot bbq grill

2. apply mixture to asparagus, covering all of them completely

3. wait till grill is very hot and lay the asparagus on the grill. you will get a lot of smoke when the mixture starts to drip into the fire.

4. using tongs, turn the asparagus every 1.5 minutes for about 4 minutes or until you have developed a nice color on the asparagus. be careful to use a HOT grill so you dont have to keep the asparagus on the grill too long and end up with over cooked veg.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I'm not a Foodie!

there are 2 words that constantly confound and frustrate me: "Foodie" and "Gourmet". Food is not ment to be put in classes, where only those in the know or with the money get to enjoy the higher end of the spectrum. first of all, it imply's a class system to something that defies class. second, its bullshit - although some impressive dishes are very hard to make, much of the best food (in this authors humble opinion) is derived from simple ingredients and preparation. have we come so far in our obsession of celebrity and attaining that which is out of our grasp that we now seek to only have the latest food trends touch our pallets? food is a basic need for all of us. much of the food we hold dear came from the most humble of backgrounds. eating lobster was considered a sign of poverty until the last 100 years for example.

i guess what i am trying to say is that food should be seen as accessible. making good food should be everyones goal, as it is such an easy one to attain. to eat from the sea is to eat the sea, to eat from the earth is to eat the earth. this is our most basic communion with our planet, and should not be used to classify ourselves as different from one another, but bring us closer to one another.

I've decided to give you a recipe for cheesy polenta. its a simple dish, and one that will impress. exactly what food should be.

Cheese Polenta


1 cup course polenta
3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
150 grams Fontina cheese
200 grams old cheddar cheese
2 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 small finely chopped onion
3 fresh cobbs of corn, with kernels removed from stock


1. in a dutch oven or other heavy bottom pot, add olive oil and heat over medium-low heat. add onion and cook gently for 2 minutes. add garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

2. add water and turn heat up to high. bring water to a boil.

3. slowly wisk in polenta. continue to wisk for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. if the polenta gets too stiff, add a little more water until it is easy to work with. after 5 minutes add the corn. once the polenta is a little tender to the bite, remove from the heat and put the lid on the pot. rest for 10 - 20 minutes (the resting will continue to cook the polenta).

4. re-introduce the pot to a medium-high flame on the burner. add milk and slowly work in as the polenta warms. you might have to add a little more milk if the polenta stays stiff. wait until it is heated through, though because the heat will loosen the polenta. add salt and pepper to taste. add most of the cheese (reserve some for topping) and fold into the polenta. remove from heat.

5. using a soup ladle, poor the polenta into individual sized ramekins and top with leftover fontina and cheddar cheese. add a crack of black pepper, if you like. set the oven to broil and place the ramekins directly under the heat source in your oven for 4 or 5 minutes, or untill the tops are golden brown. serve immediately

this recipe takes a little attention at the beginning but its pretty simple and very tasty.