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I’m baaack!

Hi food lovers,

As you can see from the date of my last post, things have been so hectic since the fall that I’m sad to say my own motto of putting food first has fallen by the wayside. Now don’t get me wrong, wonderful meals have been had (I’ll have to do a post on Mother’s Day chicken fricassee), and hours have been spent (over?)analyzing details of taste and texture. But this blog has been sadly neglected despite it making me so happy to do it. Lately I’ve been recognizing how much I’ve missed swapping food stories with you all, so even though the posts might not be as frequent as before, I’m hoping not to let months go by anymore!

Which brings me to the topic which inspired me to hit the keyboard again…SANDWICHES.

April issue of Saveur – yes please!

Justin and I have long fantasized about owning our own little cafe one day. It would be the kind with big, worn wooden tables, thick diner mugs of good coffee, and a stay-all-day kind of attitude. But the star of the show would be sandwiches. A few of our favorites which would definitely make the cut:

  • Flying Saucer Grilled Cheese: A relic of Justin’s childhood, but no adult should miss out. Take your regular grilled cheese fixins, butter up this bad boy…

…and you’ve got yourself the ooeyest, gooiest, circliest sandwich you’ll ever see. Sharp cheddar recommended.

  • Justin’s Special Breakfast Sammy: Wheat bread, fried egg, bacon (real or veggie), all sealed together with your favorite cheese. Sometimes I wake up to this when I’m about to go in for a 12-hour workday, and believe me, it starts the day off right.
  • J&R’s Sandwich Supreme: Fresh bread slathered with pesto, tomatoes, avocado, fresh mozzarella, and lettuce. There are many iterations – add olive tapenade, arugula, roasted red peppers, or just about anything else your little heart desires (today we had rosemary bread). The key is fresh ingredients whenever possible.

So tell me, what are YOUR favorites? Add a comment below to share your sandwich secrets. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll end up on the menu at a new little cafe…

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By now you know how much I love to contemplate food, but I also enjoy contemplating food words, especially those from other languages.  Doesn’t fresa sound perfect for a fresh strawberry? And fromage has the rich, gooey feel that’s just right for cheese. Though in the same language, culinary terminology in England and the US can be quite different. Growing up with a British mum (plus assorted family and friends), I was privileged to gain an alternative food vocabulary.  Here are a few of my favorite American  → British “translations”:

ARUGULA → ROCKET

EGGPLANT → AUBERGINE

CILANTRO → CORIANDER

ZUCCHINI → COURGETTE

FRENCH FRIES → CHIPS

POTATO CHIPS → CRISPS

COOKIES → BISCUITS

SAUSAGES → BANGERS

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You might think that all salts are created equal, but I’d have to humbly beg to differ. Salt is often essential to bringing out the flavors of a dish, but the flavor of the seasoning itself can vary widely. Over the years I’ve built a preference for different salts for different uses, with the result that we now have a number of types on the go. Currently on our salt spectrum…


From left to right:

Table Salt ~ The old standby has the least delicate, most metallic flavor of all the options. On the plus side, it’s cheap to buy in large quantities, and often has added iodine (which helps prevent hypothyroidism). Favorite uses: flavoring pasta water, or in baking.

Sea Salt ~ Pictured here is French grey sea salt with a handy grinder for breaking it up into more edible bits (while retaining the characteristic crunchiness), but sea salt comes in a huge variety of textures and colors. A delicious – though expensive – version is fleur de sel, which is hand-harvested off the top layer of ocean water in several areas in France. Favorite uses: topping finished dishes from salads to pastas to seafood.

Kosher Salt ~ Another inexpensive choice, but with a more pleasing texture than table salt. Because of the larger, flat shape of the grains, kosher salt dissolves less quickly than table salt (hence the name: it’s used in making meat kosher because it stays on the surface longer, helping to draw out fluids). Note – you typically need about twice the amount of kosher salt if substituting it for table, but grain sizes differ so check the box for conversion guidelines. Favorite uses: adding to veggies before roasting, or tossing with edamame.

Specialty Salt ~ I use this title loosely to describe all of those salts you see in gourmet stores which you’re tempted to try despite the ridiculous price tag. Pictured here is a jar of white truffle sea salt flakes, which J put in my Christmas stocking two years ago. We savored it all year and ran out just in time for me to get another holiday treat last year! With that time frame in mind, I say go ahead and splurge on those smoked chipotle salt flakes…

Not pictured but also a part of our salt collection are seasoning salts: my favorite is Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoing, while J prefers Lawry’s. Both contain salt mixed with other spices such as garlic, but Tony’s main secondary ingredient is red pepper, while Lawry’s is (perhaps surprisingly) sugar, which gives it a milder taste. Either adds a nice little kick to foods like eggs or potatoes.

Guess I better get to work on a post about pepper…

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I’m off to L.A. for the weekend, and my schedule there will probably mean I’ll have to take a brief hiatus from my “blog post every day for a month” pledge. But before I sign off for a few days…

My trip to the land of movie stars has gotten me thinking about great food scenes in film. There are tons to choose from, but a nostalgic favorite of mine is the Chocolate Room scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Not the new Johnny Depp remake, but the old-school, Gene Wilder version.

These days there’s CGI, but the giant candies that look plastic-y now were enough to convince the budding foodie that I was back then. I always wished I could take a drink from the chocolate waterfall (although I’ll pass on the creepy boat ride…you know what I’m talking about).

Looking forward to thinking about other great food scenes, and entire movies, for a future post!

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Tonight’s menu? Spaghetti. On the side, my husband (hereafter known as J) prepared some delicious zucchini sauteed with onions, and mushrooms cooked with Worcestershire sauce and garlic. Now that I’ve practically licked the plate clean, I’ve got SAUCE on my mind…

J and I are blessed to have inherited two equally tasty, yet very different tomato sauce recipes from our mothers. His mom’s sauce features intense tomato flavor and a decadent dose of parmesan, while my mom’s relies heavily on such unexpected flavors as carrot and celery. Whether either matriarch will be willing to release her recipe into the blogosphere remains to be seen! In the meantime, here are a few saucy thoughts:

At home

If you have some tomatoes (fresh or canned) and onions on hand, you can pretty much make yourself some sauce that’s better than anything that comes out of a jar. Throw those two things into a pan with your favorite seasonings and you’re good to go. But if you have some extra time, try dressing up your sauce with one of these recipes (while the first two are recipes for a complete dish, in either case the sauce could stand alone):

Athenian Orzo, from Eating Well

This has been a go-to dinner party recipe for me for years (especially after my friend Steven started requesting it!). The herbs in the tomato sauce combine nicely with the tang of the feta and capers and the sweetness of the shrimp. Best of all, it only takes about 30 minutes of active cooking time. Not too shabby! Click here for recipe.

Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Rolls, from Passionate Vegetarian

Early in our relationship, J told me to pick any recipe for him to prepare for dinner on my birthday, and this is what I chose. The sauce is flavored with basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and bay, and though it calls for lentils it really doesn’t need them. Grilling the vegetables and then stuffing them with spinach and dilled feta cream is so labor-intensive that we only attempt the recipe on special occasions, but every time we’re glad we did. Unfortunately the sauce recipe doesn’t seem to be online, but if you like the sound of the rest of the meal (click here), you can use your own favorite sauce in its place…or, buy the cookbook (authored by Crescent Dragonwagon)!

Pasta Puttanesca, from The Silver Palate Cookbook

And finally, an old favorite from a classic cookbook. J and I love how such a simple recipe delivers such complex flavors. With olives and anchovies, it’s definitely zesty! The authors suggest serving it to “food-loving friends and pouring an earthy red wine.” Many of you probably have this cookbook on your shelf, but if not, click here.

At the store

Of course, if you have to get dinner on the table ASAP, you might not have time to make your own sauce. As with frozen pizza (see post from 4/21), we are bombarded by options for jarred tomato sauce…and, like frozen pizza, most are not so great. I find that a lot of jarred sauce is way too sweet, and if you look at the ingredients many do have quite a bit of sugar.

I think the best of the bunch is probably Classico, with Florentine Spinach & Cheese ranking as my household’s favorite flavor.

For a special treat, though, nothing beats Cucina Bella Suprema Sauce. Discovered by my sister at a specialty food store in Michigan, it’s a combination of marinara and alfredo – VERY rich and possibly addictive. It’s probably best that we haven’t found it locally, because this isn’t an everyday sauce. But you better believe we buy it every time we visit Mich.

And in case you were wondering if I put the wrong title on this post…

Good catch, but it was intentional! As a Sopranos fan, it’s an homage to Tony and friends, who eat pasta in seemingly every episode and call the sauce “gravy.”

Looking forward to hearing YOUR favorite ingredients, recipes, and dishes involving tomato sauce!

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With so many topic ideas jotted down, I had a hard time choosing one for my first official post! Eventually I figured that there’s no better place to start than with some thoughts on a food that almost everyone likes: PIZZA.

One of the great things about pizza is the variety that it offers. You can find a great slice anywhere from the lowliest storefront to the most upper-crust (!) restaurant. I am personally pretty picky when it comes to pizza, so without further ado here are some winners I have come across in my search for the perfect pie:

Best At-Home Recipe

A great way to experiment with pizza flavors is to pick up a ready-made crust, throw on some toppings, and see what happens. But if time allows, there’s really no substitute for homemade dough. For an anniversary meal for my parents, we recently cooked up some mushroom pizzas so delicious that my husband has never quite forgiven my sister’s dog for taking an unauthorized taste! The rest of this delicious meal included roasted shrimp and orzo risotto…for the pizza recipe and full menu click here.

Shiitake and Chanterelle Pizzas with Goat Cheese from Bon Appetit

Best Frozen

Frozen pizza makes a great on-the-go meal, and the good news is grocery stores are loaded with options. The bad news: well, most are pretty bad. I found my favorite in a surprising location – Target! Their grocery brand, Archer Farms, makes wood-fired pizzas imported from Italy that will cost you less than 5 bucks! I think the best is the Four Cheese (mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Asiago, and parm). The cheese blend has a nice tangy taste and the thin crust crisps nicely in the oven without getting too crackery (is that a word?).

When we’re in a rush, we serve these pizzas with a simple green salad or salted edamame, and my husband keeps a jar of pepperoncini in the fridge for garnish (tip: before serving these tasty little peppers, spear them with a fork over the jar to let the juices run out. Otherwise once you get them on your plate you end up with soggy pizza crust)!

Another tasty flavor!

Best Slice Shop

I have great memories of grabbing a piece of pizza either before or after a long night out in college – those were the days! Antonio’s in Providence serves up some really creative slices: my friend Kris swore by the tortellini pizza, which came scattered with little pasta pillows! My favorite was the white pizza, which features a simple blend of four cheeses, no sauce.

Some of the many options at Antonio's, courtesy of Lou P. on Yelp

Best Junk Food

I have a confession to make. Once in a blue moon, I get a hankering for Domino’s. It may be nostalgia for the days of chowing down while studying for math tests in my friend Abby’s kitchen, or it might be because of the greasy garlic bread sticks (which actually taste much better than the pizza). Whatever the reason, I guess I’ll have to file it under “so bad it’s good”…at least until you order it and realize you don’t want to eat it again for a long time.

Domino’s has recently made a big deal out of their revamped recipe, and funnily enough when I tried it, it tasted…pretty much the same. Same cardboard crust, same overly sweet tomato base. But for those late-night cravings, I recommend the hand-tossed crust with a side of artery-clogging garlic dipping sauce.

Photo by Serious Eats

Best Restaurant

From Domino’s to the specialty restaurant, I have to give this one to Spacca Napoli in Chicago. However, I haven’t actually been there in a few years, so I might have to brave the crowds soon to make sure it’s as delicious as I remember it. They specialize in Neapolitan-style pizza (cooked in a wood-burning oven with a very thin center and puffy outer crust).

Fun fact: what we now know as the classic Margarita Pizza originated in 1889 as a creation by a baker in Naples to honor the visit of Italian Queen Margherita. The queen loved the flavors of tomato, mozzarella, and basil (which reflect the red, white, and green of the Italian flag) so much that it became a national favorite, and some say that’s how pizza as we know it was born!

Margherita Pizza, Spacca Napoli

Also in Chicago, I have yet to try Great Lake, a 14-seat joint whose Mortadella pie was recently named Best Pizza in America by GQ. In the name of research, I think I’ll have to check it out…stay tuned!

Best Delivery

This one’s a no-brainer. I have never found more delicious delivery pizzas than those brought to your door by Pagliacci in Seattle. The original cheese is excellent, but I also love some of the ones that feature an olive oil base, like the Pesto Primo or my all-time favorite, the AGOG Primo (Fontina and mozzarella cheeses, roasted garlic, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, goat cheese, parsley and Kalamata olives). Pagliacci also makes the effort to be green by using compostable packaging, so environmentally-conscious Seattleites can feel good about their purchase for more than its deliciousness!

AGOG Primo, Pagliacci

In conclusion…

By now you may have noticed a distinct bias in the type of pizza crust I prefer. Yes, that’s right, despite being a Chicago girl…I am not a fan of deep dish. But that’s what comments are for: please share your favorite pizzas (deep dish or otherwise) in any of the categories above!

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