Roasted Salmon with Matzah Gremolata

Every Passover I try to come up with a new spin on traditional dishes. Here is one I came up with for a cooking class that I taught a few weeks ago. I wanted an entree that screamed Spring, but whispered Passover, and this was the perfect thing.

Roasted Salmon with Matzah Gremolata


  • 2 pounds salmon (Norwegian, Faroe Island, or Atlantic)*
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons mustard (Dijon, deli-style, or whole grain)**
  • ½ cup matzah meal or 2 finely crumbled matzahs
  • 3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons green onions or chives, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup olive oil, or more if necessary


  1. Preheat oven to 425℉***. Line a baking tray with foil. If the salmon doesn’t have skin, spray foil with cooking spray, but if it does, then don’t.
  2. Place salmon on baking tray and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Add dollops of mustard and spread evenly over the salmon.
  4. On a cutting board, place the herbs, garlic and lemon zest and finely mince.
  5. In a bowl, mix the chopped herbs, garlic, lemon, zest, and matzah crumbs. Add the lemon juice olive oil and stir well. Spread the mixture on top of the salmon and bake for 18-20 minutes.


*You can use chicken breast instead of salmon. Bake at 400℉ for 30 minutes.

**You can use Manischewitz Creamy Horseradish Sauce or combo of mustard and mayo.

***If using wild salmon, reduce cooking time.



How I Hosted Thanksgiving Without Losing My Mind in 19 Steps

Cranberry Curd Tart from the New York Times Cooking Section

It’s over. But hindsight is 20/20. I’m posting this with the hopes that I can learn from a little self-reflection. More holidays right around the corner, after all.

Step One. Shop three times in three days and still forget 5 things. Buy half the amount of onions I meant to. Store is open on Thanksgiving, right? Oh, it’s not? Buy 4 pounds of cranberries instead of 2. They freeze, right?

Step Two. Make cranberry sauce. Put in fridge. Whew. My work is done and all of my labor and careful planning has already paid off.

Step Three. Have 2 kids make 2 pies, one from the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can, the other from the back of the Karo syrup bottle. I am officially not a snob and my kids are now very accomplished. Third kid is currently negotiating to help tomorrow instead of today. #studyingnotstudying

Step Four. Run down to basement with husband in tow. He’s there to carry assorted cooking gadgets–electric turkey roaster, bread machine, ice cream maker, instant pot, soup pot, tart pan, and serving platter–but he is also there because I shouldn’t have watched the first episode of The Haunting of Hill House and now I can never ever safely go to the basement alone again without thinking of “The Bent Neck Lady.” #shudder

Step Five. Make King Arthur Flour Cookbook recipe for stuffing bread. It calls for 13 ingredients and I planned on leaving out the sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and the bread dough enhancer. Realize that I am out of sage, cornmeal, potato starch. 7 out of 13 ingredients down. I momentarily wonder if it will taste as good? Is it even stuffing bread anymore??? Pause to have existential crisis. Decide to wing it and hope for the best since I refuse to buy a loaf of fancy bread to shred for stuffing. Spending pennies instead of dollars even if the stress costs me my health. 

Step Six. Spontaneously decide I will make the Cranberry Curd Tart from the New York Times Cooking website because I really am a snob. My supermarket doesn’t carry hazelnuts or rice flour. Improvise with almond flour from Costco leftover from Passover and some unbleached white flour, but decide to otherwise follow the directions meticulously.

Step Seven. Realize that I didn’t follow the directions at all and have made 2 substitutions and 1 big fat mistake. Proceed anyway. Doesn’t quite look like the picture, but I am sure it will taste good.

Step Eight. Open bottle of wine that was meant for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a white blend from Pop Crush and was on clearance at the grocery store for $5. The joke is on them because it’s so good they could have charged three times the price. It would be GREAT paired with food. Turkey especially. Oh. the joke’s on me. It’s gone and now I am too drunk to follow directions meticulously. I think I will call it a day.

Step Nine. Thanksgiving morning. Wake up and hit the ground running. Well, actually, sleep in, go to Jazzercise, do some online shopping, make some phone calls, and oh shoot, better start cooking. Set the table instead. See procrastination blog post

Step Ten. Cut stuffing bread into cubes and toast in oven. Saute leeks, celery, apples, thyme. Chop chestnuts and parsley. Stuffing looks picture perfect. Makes a lot but should have doubled this anyway–it’s everyone’s favorite! 

Step Eleven. Vaguely notice family as they lounge nearby while I wrestle 18 pound Trader Joe’s turkey out of wrapper and hoist into roaster. Watch family recoil in fear of salmonella. Husband stands on guard with bleach bottle in hand. Meanwhile, I dump random spices from the cabinet on top of the turkey, stuff a bunch of random things from the crisper to the cavity, drizzle with olive oil, and add onions and broth to the pan. Close lid. Pray. Should have had more of a plan, but turkey always tastes like turkey, no matter what fancy things I do to it. I stare into space and have flashbacks to Thanksgiving 2008 when I lovingly massaged the turkey with homemade herb butter and left the skin to crisp for 3 days in the fridge, all for nothing. It tasted good but just like every other turkey. Feeling better about my decision, or lack of decision.

Step Twelve. Ask husband and kids to help peel potatoes. Watch husband pretend sweet potatoes are manatees swimming off the coast in Florida and act out entire watery scenario. Wonder if he is losing his mind. Decide he is just very hungry and his blood sugar is low.

Step Thirteen. Sheesh, step thirteen?!?! What kind of crazy holiday is this? Thank god I only have to do this once a year. Pry sweet potato from husband’s hands for cooking. Does he look a little tearful? Did he just quietly say, “Goodnight sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest?” Make mashed potatoes. Bake stuffing. Chop kale for our favorite salad.

Step Fourteen. Turkey is done. Husband lifts cooked turkey out of roaster with wooden spoons. The wooden spoons snap. We don’t speak for a full minute as we stare thoughtfully at the turkey. What have we done in the past…think…complete amnesia sets in as we both stare off into the distance trying to conjure memories of Thanksgivings past. None of our 23 Thanksgivings together are coming to mind. Two pairs of metal tongs do the trick. It looks lovely on the platter tented with foil. It is picture perfect, but no one will get to see it because carving is imminent as my husband clutches the carving knife.

Step Fifteen. Make gravy. THIS IS THE MOST STRESSFUL PART. Pouring a giant vat of hot greasy liquid into 4 cup fat separator as wide-eyed starving children look on is a little unnerving. Separator does its magic. Kids don’t care about watching turkey being carved, but they appear mesmerized by the fat separating from the stock, the way one might stare at a lava lamp. I make a swimming pool’s worth of gravy. It is perfect and no seasoning is necessary.

Step Sixteen. Kids and husband carry food for 50 people into dining room set for 5. I’m in the bedroom frantically printing out Thanksgiving trivia and games as I just thought of it right now.

Step Seventeen. We eat. We play. It’s perfect. All of the stress and hard work was worth it.

Step Eighteen. Kids clear table. Kids do dishes. So many dishes. Kids do dishes on repeat for two days. Best kids ever. I am truly thankful all around.

Step Nineteen. We eat Thanksgiving dinner three times a day for three days. When it is gone, we are both relieved and sad.

Step Nineteen. Start planning for Chanukah. I think I’ll get a head start. I learned a lot from Thanksgiving this time. 🙂



Amazon Affiliate Links:

King Arthur Flour Cookbook

Instant Pot  Oster Turkey Roaster

Golden Saffron Chicken with Onions

Cooking Up a New Plan

(Recipe and more photos for Saffron Chicken follow!)



In cinematic fashion, I am running down a corridor at a downtown convention center to get to my first session of the conference. It feels more like an airplane hangar, and I am overwhelmed with making my connection on time. Although I do not know it then, I am also taxiing down the corridor of my life, which is about to take an unexpected detour.


Lois Lowry is supposed to speak, and I will not miss it for all the free books in the world. I promised my students I will report back; we have just finished reading two of her novels. I slip into a seat at the front of the room, the podium an arm’s length away–I’m all too eager for her wisdom.


Then I hear the announcement: Lois Lowry has fallen and she can’t get up, but she will be okay. Instead, we will hear from Laurie Halse Anderson. I’m crestfallen, but only momentarily. Laurie glides onto the stage in a flowery dress, her strong arms grasp the microphone, and the white streak in her hair falls over her eyes. She begins to speak, her words the song that will become my soundtrack, the motif that will play in the background of my scenes for the next few weeks. I am hovering above the room watching a movie of my life.


She asks the audience, a small army of English teachers, “How many of you are working on a book?” Everyone raises their hand. Everyone.


I am with my people, I think, I am one of them. In my mind, I freeze the frame of this moment.


Then, she asks: “How many of you wish you had time to finish that book?” All hands go up again, including my own.


I no longer want to be one of them. I vow to make more time to write.


She compliments teachers. She tells us that teachers birth readers and writers. That we will never know the total effect we have had on our students because years go by, and the work we have done is cumulative.


I picture us, no longer a small army of teachers, now marching in our red robes and bonnets to perform our duties, to populate the world with readers and writers, being farmed out like handmaids to make other people’s dreams come true.


She also tells us that books save lives. I’m saving lives! I imagine myself kneeling with defibrillator paddles in hand, positioned over a student’s heart, yelling: CLEAR! Except when I look down, they’re not paddles, they are books, and when I look closer, the face is my own: the person I am reviving is me. The soundtrack skids to halt as the needle scratches the record.


The next three days of the conference are tinged with sadness. The vibrant colors of the film take on a sepia tone, and my life plans seem out of date. Sadness turns to anger: Why can’t I make more time to write? Anger turns to motivation: I will make more time to write!


And I do. I write and write and write.


For me, writing and cooking are connected. Both are process oriented and take patience if one wants to improve. Aside from this food blog, the characters in my stories often have a scene or two where they, warrior-like, wield Santoku knives when they feel powerless, and disrobe beets of their dingy exterior to reveal a jewel-like interior.


I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve been cooking a lot. And saving up recipes to share with you.


Here is one of my new favorites. This makes a great dinner for company, and it is just as good for a weeknight meal. Did I mention you can prep it ahead? Well, you can. And that makes all the difference when you need time to pursue other passions. You can let it marinate in the fridge for maximum flavor for a day or two. Or you can cook it right away.


Saffron Chicken with Onions

(serves 4-6)

  • 2 to 2 ½  pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (I use this brand and it often goes on sale. It comes in 20 ounce packages and I use two: Just BARE Chicken.)
  • 1 or 2 sweet Vidalia onions, thinly sliced (Use 2 if you love onions and 1 if you only like them. You can use any kind of onion you have on hand.)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (It doesn’t make it spicy, just gives it flavor, but you can omit it if you want. Or double it if you want a little kick.)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (It seems like a lot, but I promise it is just right. It has a lot of work to do.)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon  saffron (leave it fluffy and don’t pack it into the spoon), or one big pinch if you find it hard to measure (I get mine at Trader Joe’s)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (One or two juicy lemons should do it)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients on a large baking sheet and arrange in a single layer with onions around and on top of the chicken. (If you are making it ahead, just cover it with foil. Or you can marinate it in a large Ziploc bag and just dump it out onto the baking sheet and arrange it in a single layer when you are ready to cook it).
  2. Bake at 400℉ for 35 to 40 minutes until the edges of onions and chicken just begin to brown. Serve over rice.*You can halve this recipe. You can also double or triple it.

    ** You can use boneless skinless chicken breast, if you prefer. But reduce the cooking time to 30-35 minutes.










Grilled Flatbread with Goat Cheese, Apples, Pecans, and Honey


Although I refrained from channeling my inner Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting on live TV, I did briefly consider slipping his famous line in, when, last week, I did TWO cooking segments on the local news for Envy Apples. Afterward, I did get asked, How do you like them apples? quite a few times from like-minded people. Well, I liked them very much! To find out why, watch these:

I made Grilled Flatbread with Herbed Goat Cheese, Honey, Pecans, and Mixed Greens, and then Sweet Crepes with Shaved Apples on the 11AM news. And on the 12 0’clock news, I made Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Apples and Blooming Apples for dessert.

It has been a long time, four years, since I appeared on live television, but as soon as I arrived at the studio I felt at home. I am in front of people doing spontaneous things every day, and some are pretty tough crowds at that (I teach middle school so will say no more). Teaching literature instead of cooking requires fewer trips to the grocery store and way less clean up, although it depends on the day.

With both, I love the rush. Sharing things I am most passionate about gives me a high. So last week, in the morning, I cooked beautiful food with a newscaster, and in the afternoon, discussed Fahrenheit 451 with some of my favorite teenagers. Some days life doesn’t get any better. I felt happy through and through.

One inspires the other. Planning my lesson for school, I could count on Ray Bradbury to paint the perfect picture, a “bloom of fire, a single wondrous blossom,” when Guy Montag uses his flamethrower to destroy the mechanical hound. Great idea–Blooming Apples for the 12 o’clock news it is! Three of the four recipes are based on recipes found on the website for Envy, and I have included links below. The fourth follows, and it is my own.

Try Envy and see for yourself. And let me know, how do you like them apples?


Grilled Flatbread with Goat Cheese, Apples, Pecans, and Honey

  • 1 flatbread, pita, or naan
  • 2-4 ounces herbed goat cheese
  • 1 Envy apple
  • 1-2 tablespoon chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon honey, for drizzling
  • ¼ cup mixed field greens

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Lay flatbread across the grates of the grill pan. Warm the flatbread for a minute or two, turn with tongs, and warm other side.

Meanwhile, thinly slice Envy apples.

In a small bowl stir goat cheese to soften until creamy.

Spread each flatbread with the goat cheese.

Top with apple slices, pecans, honey, and scatter the greens. Serve immediately.

I also made:

And this, without the caramel because sometimes enough is enough:

And also this, but with a filling of 4 ounces cream cheese, ¼ brown sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract:


Red Curry Cravings

I really love Thai curry.

Luckily, we have three great Thai restaurants within minutes from our house and we go as often as we can. But unfortunately we can’t spend every night in a restaurant. There are times when one has to take matters into their own hands and make Thai curry at home.

On a busy night it comes together quickly. Shortcuts are okay with me and my family agrees.

I start with the rice. My foolproof way of making rice is this: I take 2 cups of Jasmine rice, 3 cups water, and two teaspoons kosher salt and place them in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave it for 15 minutes with the cover off and 5 more minutes with the cover on. Out of sight and out of mind while I focus on the curry.

15 minutes like this

15 minutes like this

5 minutes like this

5 minutes like this



ready and waiting

ready and waiting


fluff before serving

Next comes the curry. This is a little different then restaurant curry but it is how we do it at home. And we are out to make ourselves happy after all.

First, saute a cup of chopped onions.



Add 1 tablespoon ginger paste and 1 teaspoon chopped garlic.

add ginger and garlic

add ginger and garlic

Add 2 tablespoons of red curry paste.

add curry paste

add curry paste

Add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and 2 to 3 tablespoons of  brown sugar.

brown sugar and fish sauce

brown sugar and fish sauce

Add  a can of coconut milk.

add coconut milk

add coconut milk

This time I added a pound of pre-cooked shrimp and about 12 ounces of pre-cooked green beans. But you can add anything you like… chicken, tofu, beef, peppers, broccoli, etc.

add green beans and shrimp

add green beans and shrimp

Simmer for about 10 minutes.



Serve with the rice.



Craving satisfied!

Pizza Hamantaschen

Folks are doing amazing things with hamantaschen nowadays and are creative as can be. Lately I’ve seen rainbow hamantaschen as well as challah hamantaschen and even cupcake hamantaschen, which are all in good fun. If you are looking for a traditional hamantaschen recipe (this one has a feminist spin), then there is no shortage of those as well.

But while you are branching out, why not make pizza hamantaschen, since the only thing that kids like as much as cookies is pizza? And you want to make them happy. After all, it’s Purim!

Pizza Hamantaschen--Be Happy!

Pizza Hamantaschen–Be Happy!

Pizza Hamantaschen  (Pictures follow)

  • ·         1 package biscuit dough, such as Pillsbury or Trader Joe’s,  preferably one that has flaky layers
  • ·         1-14 ounce can pizza sauce (you will use about 6 ounces)
  • ·         Shredded mozzarella cheese (about a cup)


1.       Preheat oven to 350° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.      Open biscuit package and separate the dough into 8 rounds.

3.      Peel each biscuit in half horizontally so you have 2 rounds of dough.

4.      Lay them out on a work surface, and top with a dollop of pizza sauce. Do not spread the sauce, and be careful not to put too much or you won’t be able to seal your hamantaschen.

5.      Top with a pinch of cheese.

6.      Fold into the traditional hamantaschen shape by folding up one side and pinching the dough closed, and then lifting up the other side and pinching the other two corners closed. You should be able to see a little bit of the filling peeking through.

7.      Place on the baking sheet and cook for about 9 minutes until the edges of the dough are golden brown and the pizza hamantaschen is puffed. Eat while hot, and don’t forget to be happy!

Biscuit dough

Biscuit dough

Peel apart horizontally

Peel apart horizontally

Lay flat on work surface

Lay flat on work surface

Put a dollop of sauce on each

Put a dollop of sauce on each

Top with a sprinkle of cheese

Top with a sprinkle of cheese

Fold one side up and pinch to seal

Fold one side up and pinch to seal

It will look like this

It will look like this

Then do the second side

Then do the second side

And the third side

And the third side





Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Bake at 350 F for about 9 minutes or until golden

Bake at 350 F for about 9 minutes or until golden

Pizza Hamantashen 16 Pizza Hamantashen 17 Pizza Hamantashen 18

Pizza Hamantaschen--Be Happy!

Pizza Hamantaschen–Be Happy!

Chicken Pot Pie

Snow day has followed snow day, and frankly I don’t mind a bit. The icy roads and sub-zero temps have given me permission to stay home with my family in my cozy house and cook. The biggest challenge on those days is to decide if I will put on clothes or pajamas after a shower, and pajamas always seem to win.

Comfortable clothes lead to comfort food, and this chicken pot pie is an old favorite.

There are varying degrees of how challenging this recipe can be—sometimes I make my own crust and add wine and a bay leaf to the filling ( ask me if you want to know when to add what), other times I use store bought crust and frozen veggies. It all depends on how much effort I feel like putting into it, and honestly, it is always delicious no matter which way I choose to go.

I will give you all of the variations and you can decide for yourself the next time you are snowed in, whether to put on pajamas or clothes, or make or buy a pie crust.

Comfort food equals comfort cooking, so have it your way.

I have made this when company comes, when bringing dinner to sick friends, and when I have bits of this and that leftover in the fridge. It never disappoints, so if winter has you down, this will pick you up!

Chicken Pot Pie Recipe (pictures follow)

  • 2 pie crusts, store-bought, I used Pillsbury, but any frozen crust will do, except Trader Joe’s brand which is too sweet, or homemade (sift 1 cup flour into a bowl, cut in 1/3 cup butter or shortening and mix with fork, sprinkle on 2 tablespoons cold water and blend again with fork, shape into a ball, wrap with plastic and chill in fridge until after you cook the filling)
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil, or butter, or whatever you like to sauté onions with
  • 1 medium onion, about 1 cup, chopped
  • For the veggies: 1 diced potato or 1 cup chopped cauliflower florets, ½ cup diced carrots, ½ cup frozen peas. On a lazy day I might use a  bag of frozen veggies such as Trader Joe’s Vegetable Melange, cooked in the microwave for twice as long as the directions say, and added after I sauté the onion.
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 ½ cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups diced chicken

To make filling:

  1. Heat oil and sauté onion, peas, carrots, and potato or cauliflower until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper and mix well. Gradually stir in the broth, stirring constantly to make a thick, creamy sauce. Add diced chicken and stir to combine.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Let the filling cool for a bit while you prep the crusts. Roll out both pieces of dough and place one in the bottom of the pie dish, letting it hang over the edge a bit. Set the second piece of dough aside. Pour in the slightly cooled filling, and cover it with the second piece of rolled out dough. Pierce the top crust with a fork to vent, and tuck the edges of the crust under to make a neat edge.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, or until crust is golden. Let stand for 15-30 minutes to let the filling thicken a bit before you cut into it.

Pot Pie 16 Pot Pie 15 Pot Pie 12 Pot Pie 14 Pot Pie 13 Pot Pie 11 Pot Pie 10 Pot Pie 9 Pot Pie 8 Pot Pie 7 Pot Pie 6 Pot Pie 5 Pot Pie 2 Pot Pie 1 Pot Pie 3 Pot Pie 4



Heart-Shaped Meatloaf

The Things We Do For Love: A Valentine’s Day Blog Post

It started back in 1995 when I first met Jesse—being in love suddenly made me want to cook. Although I loved to cook, there was no real point to it since I lived in NYC and considered all of the restaurants in town my own personal pantry. Instead of opening the door to the fridge, I would open the front door to my apartment, and there were a multitude of cheap great eats to choose from.

But on Valentine’s Day 1996 something in my universe shifted. I had an idea, and as goofy as I knew it was, I knew I had to do it. I made my super- cool, crazy-handsome, rocker husband-to-be a heart shaped meatloaf.

Heart Shaped Meatloaf Circa 1996

If this isn’t love, what is?

When I pulled it from the oven I channeled my best June Cleaver, my inner Marion Cunningham, and even my own wonderful mom. Meatloaf to me means more than just that you love someone, it means that you are a family.

Some other V-Day fun:

Salad with Red Pepper Hearts

Salad with Red Pepper Hearts

Heart Shaped Corn Bread Muffins

Heart Shaped Corn Bread Muffins

Guess what these are? Beets cut into hearts...wait for it...Heart Beets

Beets cut into hearts…wait for it…Heart Beets

Well, all these year later, I will be keeping with the tradition that I started way back when, and will make my 19th heart shaped meatloaf for my love. But now I must make it bigger because there are five of us. You know the childhood taunt, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” Well three babies and 19 Valentine’s Days later, we look forward to it as our family V-Day tradition!

Valentine’s Day Meatloaf

  • 2 pounds ground meat (I use half ground chicken and half ground beef, 85/15)
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup dry oatmeal, ground in a food processor
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • For the glaze mix together: ¼ cup ketchup, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard and set aside.
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the dry mustard powder and the water. Add the egg and stir again. Add all of the remaining ingredients: ground meat, ground oats, garlic, ketchup, salt, and thyme and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
  3. Transfer the meat mixture onto the prepared baking pan and using your hands, shape into a big, wide heart, smoothing the top.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, top with the glaze, and return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  5. Serve to someone, or a few someones, that you love.


One Fish, Two Fish: How to Make Whole Fish

What dish is so delish? It’s a fish dish! So, if you have one wish, miss, wish for a fish dish as delish as this!

–My take on Dr. Suess

Dinner for Dr. Suess?

I grew up in a family that ate a lot of fish:

Ok, maybe not that much.  🙂

Before the world was heralding the health benefits of omega-3’s; before words like sustainable and over-fished were swimming around, my parents and I were dedicated fish eaters.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, when steak was king, we stuck true to our roots–not just fish, but whole fish, head and tail and all:

As sushi made its debut in mainstream culture, there was John Hugh’s The Breakfast Club to document it– Molly Ringwald brings sushi for lunch in a bento box. Judd Nelson taunts her, saying she “won’t accept a guy’s tongue in her mouth but she would eat that!”  That comparison made quite an impact on me at 14! It would be 7 more years before I would have the opportunity to try sushi, and no comment on the tongue!

Breakfast Club Lunch Scene, 1985, the first time I had heard of sushi!

But I digress…I am not blogging about sushi, which I also love, but about whole fish and fully cooked at that!

My mom would make more than one kind of fish at a  meal. This is eons before moms complained about being short order cooks to accommodate every whim, and saw it as necessity: whole fish for my dad, filet for my mom and me.

My mom would go to the local fish store, a magical place. It was icy and cold inside, kind of like the penguin house at the zoo (ok, not exactly). Truthfully, I am surprised my neighborhood even had a fish store considering we had AWESOME take-out–I mean who the heck was even eating fish in the Bronx in 1980 when the pizza from the local pizzeria was so damn good!

I will save pizza for another blog…

She would come home with bundles of small butcher paper packages, and our dinner would unfold.

My father would get the porgies,  with their light flaky meat, the eye white and bland looking, staring at you throughout the meal. He would put a few steaming forkfuls onto my plate. To fully enjoy my bites I would have to tune out his shouts of “Aura, be careful! The bones, don’t choke on the bones!” (I didn’t.)

My mom would make flounder seasoned with nothing but a dab of butter for me (probably Parkay margarine circa 1980 at my house). Filets, being boneless would calm my dad’s hysterics.

Now as a grown up I feel I must confess that when I order fish in restaurants I will opt for the the whole fish 9 times out of 10 if that is a choice, which it isn’t often enough in St. Louis.

One week-and- half- long trip home to New York to visit my in-laws in Brooklyn could yield in at least ten dinners out at amazing restaurants, two of which might be in Sheepshead Bay at Liman and Yiasou, which would mean, yep, you guessed it,two opportunities for whole-fish dinners!

I have become adept at navigating the fish comb skeleton, the tiny jaw frowning, under-bite and all, and delving into the delicious and tender cheek–a morsel so yummy I can never decide to eat it first or save it for last.

Since I haven’t been back home to New York lately, I need to be able to make it myself.

And as often as I can get whole fish, which isn’t often enough, it doesn’t really matter what kind– once drizzled with good olive oil, bedazzled with glimmering flakes of course  kosher salt, dotted with freshly ground pepper, stuffed with slices of lemon and slivers of garlic, sprinkled with handfuls of greens, and slipped into a hot oven– cooked like this–it is perfection!

One fish:

Two fish:

Roasted until the flavors of garlic and lemon permeate the fish, the bones infusing their meaty goodness into the delicate white flesh.

Aaaahhh…nice and opaque:

When dinner is served, it is man against fish, just the two of us, and concentration is necessary.

Moving aside the skin, eating the whole top side, peeling the whole skeleton, up and away in one slow but mighty swoop and depositing it in the trash. This reminds me of childhood cartoons, like Tom and Jerry where a roll in the trash wasn’t complete without fish bones and banana peels.

Now my garbage is complete:

And of course throughout dinner, my own words ring out, although softer and sweeter than my dad’s booming voice: “The bones! Be careful not to choke on the bones!” And my children, fascinated, eat dinner in silence, wide eyed and slightly gaping in awe like the fish on their plates.

Dinner is served:

Roasted Whole Fish

  • 2 whole fish, any kind (I used red snapper above, but bass would be m y first choice)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  •  freshly ground pepper
  • 2 sliced garlic cloves
  • 1 sliced lemon
  • a handful of arugula or  parsley leaves, or any herbs you like
  1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Wash and dry fish, inside and out, patting with paper towels.
  2. Generously brush with the olive oil, inside and out.
  3. Seriously sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, inside and out–it can take it–it (possibly) came from the sea! ;).
  4. Open up the fish an place a  layer of lemons, slightly overlapping, into the cavity.
  5.  And then add slices of fresh garlic tossed here and  there (the more the merrier).
  6. And a handful or so of arugula or parsley leaves strewn about on top of the lemon and garlic inside the cavity.
  7. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes and serve hot. But first, look it in the eye, if you dare.

Penne al la Vodka: Better than the Restaurant

Sometimes you want it, need it, have to have it. Even though it is decadent, you won’t rest easy until the deed is done. It will consume your thoughts, until you consume it. And you can go out of the house to get it, or you can get it at home. No, silly, I am talking about Penne al a Vodka, the ultimate cream-based pasta dish.

The secret to delicious restaurant cooking is that they add way more butter-cream-salt-sugar-oil than you would ever dare to do at home.  You are pretty much paying someone else to NOT tell you how much fat-salt-sugar is on your plate. These ingredients go directly to the pleasure center of your brain, and helps bring you to the conclusion that you’ve just had a great meal out.  It’s cheating, actually.
This restaurant “don’t ask don’t tell” policy is universal. Unless you go with my mom, then she interrogates the waiter until he goes back to the kitchen and asks the chef EXACTLY what is in the dish and in what amounts. But not me–if I am eating in a restaurant, and not eating sushi or a salad, then I want this pure primal fat-salt-sugar hit, and I don’t want to discuss it.
When cooking at home, I wouldn’t dare add as much fat-salt-sugar as they do in a restaurant.  I am conscious of keeping things healthy for my friends and family with the “special occasion” clause, otherwise known as a “treat.”  Once in a while I will make this Penne al a Vodka for that at-home restaurant fat-salt-sugar hit, and I tell myself it is still slightly better for you than anything at the local Italian-American Pasta Restaurant.
In fact, this recipe is so good, that we would never ever think to order it in a restaurant anymore because it is BETTER.
Now, I know you think I am always telling you, my loyal readers and fellow foodies, that my recipe is BEST. But I kid you not, once again, this is not just good, not just better, but the best.
As my grandmother used to tell me, “Good better best, never let it rest, until the good is better and the better best. “ And this recipe my friends is, the best.
The Best Penne al la Vodka
·         1 pound of penne pasta
·         2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
·         1 medium onion, diced
·         2 cloves garlic, minced
·         ¼ cup vodka, any quality
·         1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (1/4 if you like it spicy)
·         28 ounces tomato sauce (see blog Getting Sauced, or you can use jarred such as Trader Joes’s or Barilla, (marinara, tomato basil, garlic, etc.)
·         ¾ cup cream
·         ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
·         ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1.       Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook penne according to package directions.
2.      Meanwhile, in large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until tender. Add the minced garlic and cook for about a minute, keeping the garlic moving in the pan.
3.      Add the vodka and crushed red pepper and cook until the vodka is reduced and seems to disappear.
4.      Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Stir in the cream and the parmesan cheese and stir well until incorporated into the sauce.
5.      When the pasta is finished cooking, drain and add it to the sauce and mix well. Add the fresh chopped basil and serve hot. Enjoy!

Thursday Night Chicken Bolognese

Talk of eating Spaghetti Bolognese has been going on in my house for days.

My boys are reading a book called The Uglies in which a character named Tally goes on a treacherous journey and packs 41 packets of instant Spaghetti Bolognese.

Even though by the end of her trip Tally is sick of it, the Spaghetti Bolognese comes up again and again, causing my boys to clamor every night to eat some, clutching their empty grumbling bellies and crying out for Spaghetti Bolognese.

They have only two questions: “Mom, what is spaghetti Bolognese? And can we eat some RIGHT NOW?”

I didn’t remind them I made it twice last fall—a delicious recipe from Epicurious that everyone liked—but there was nothing to help them remember it. It was eaten, swooned over, and, no sooner than the dish hit the sink, immediately forgotten.

But thanks to this book, The Uglies, it has been an obsession all week.

“Mom, can you make spaghetti Bolognese? Now? PLEASE?”
“Um, ok. Let me look around the kitchen and I’ll let you know.”

Now admittedly, my pantry and fridge are what we can call “well stocked.”

I can whip up a meal with nothing but the scraps in the veggie crisper and some jars in the cabinet, and for company at that.  I had the ingredients for a faux Bolognese and my boys didn’t know any better, thanks to short term food memory.

But when it was done, I realized that what I’d made tasted just as good as, and maybe better than, the original, complicated recipe—and I didn’t have to spend 2 hours in the kitchen stirring.

The first thing you should do is open a bottle of wine.  Maybe this is how you start cooking every meal anyway.  An inexpensive red would do (head to Trader Joe’s), something appropriate for a Thursday no-company sort of night.

You are going to use only a little bit of wine for the recipe, so pour yourself a glass—might as well get this weeknight non-party rolling. Besides, it will make helping with homework a little easier.

Take a sip and you may notice immediately that the kids’ voices seem softer and further away. And by voices I mean whining, crying, screaming, fighting. If this isn’t your household skip ahead to the next paragraph. If it is your house, pour a little more wine—you only need 3 tablespoons for this recipe.  By the way, I’m not saying if it is my house or not.

Begin cooking now. Put up a pot of water for the pasta. You can use any kind of long noodle you have. Trader Joe’s has taglietelle, which I love, but feel free to use linguini or spaghetti, and when the water boils, salt the water well.

Once the stress of your day starts to melt away, you will begin to hone in on the smell of the olive oil: green, deep; the onions: sweet, savory; the garlic: buttery, warm; the thyme: earthy, strong. Brown your ground chicken (or any ground meat you’d like), add the luscious tomato sauce (see previous my blog, Getting Sauced), and simmer away.  

When this comes together, the sauce simmering simultaneously with the pasta boiling, it will transform your Thursday night supper into something special. So, pour some more wine for you, put out extra grated parm for the kids, and enjoy.

And you never know what treasures your kids’ book hold.

Thursday Night Chicken Bolognese

·         2 tablespoons olive oil

·         1 large onion, chopped
·         4 cloves garlic, sliced
·         3 tablespoons red wine, whatever you like to drink
·         1 teaspoon kosher salt
·         3 cups tomato sauce, homemade or jarred
·         Freshly ground black pepper
·         ½ teaspoon dried thyme
·         1 pound ground chicken (not lean or ground chicken breast)
·         16 ounces tagliatelle, linguini, or spaghetti
·         Grated Romano-Parmesan blend, for sprinkling

1.       In a large pan, heat the oil and cook the onion over medium-high heat until tender.

2.      Add the garlic and cook while stirring for one minute. Add the wine and cook stirring for 2 minutes. Add the ground chicken and cook until browned while breaking up the chunks of meat with a wooden spoon Add the tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and thyme, simmer for 15 minutes.
3.      Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions taking care not to overcook. Drain (it is okay to leave a little pasta cooking water clinging to the noodles), and toss the noodles with the sauce. Serve with grated parmesan-Romano blend or whatever you have handy.

Gettin’ Sauced: Homemade Winter Tomato Sauce

I get a little restless this time of year.  Winter has me longing for things I can’t have or do, such as: spending warm, late nights outdoors sipping iced tea while the kids play ball; leaving the house with my hair wet without freezing half to death; having a backyard full of herbs and tomatoes at my disposal. *Sigh.* That last one is the one that always gets me. 

Maybe it is because I grew up in a NYC apartment that I am so in awe of things that grow. It is a wondrous thing for me to be able to open my backdoor and pluck good things to eat. It is nothing short of a miracle that the simple combo of soil-seed-water-sun can produce, well, produce.
Don’t get me wrong—I love winter. It is one of my four favorite seasons. But there are things that I long for that make me stare wistfully out the back window, knowing it will be a while before anything green appears.
The grocery store tomato is in a sad state these last few months—mealy, green, and tasteless, despite its rosy red hue, probably genetically engineered to trick the buyer. But I am not fooled.
This last week I did three television segments on local news shows involving tomato products. Oh, how I wished it was summer so I could proudly use fresh tomatoes but instead I shamelessly used canned in my demo. Why? Because there is no dishonor in using canned tomatoes, especially in the winter. They are picked, processed and canned in their height of ripeness; preserved with all of their summery goodness, their flavored locked in. If I had any desire to can I would have done it myself months ago, but I am not so much of a country girl.
Instead, the freezer is my idea of a cold pantry, already filled with pesto, strawberry jam, and curry sauce, made with things so glorious in their season that I wished to hold on to the moment for as long as possible. The mason jars line my freezer shelf like a small army.  Filled with my favorite pesto—made with basil I’ve grown and picked, spoonfuls of lovely green-tinged extra- virgin olive oil, toasted pistachio nuts, sheep’s milk Italian cheese, fresh garlic, and mounds and mounds of sweet young basil leaves, all taken for a whirl in my Cuisinart, and  encapsulated in jars in the freezer. Strawberries–picked by my little ones in the summer heat, mashed, sweetened, and thickened with pectin, held in jars, ruby red and gleaming, also nestled in the depths of the freezer. And a large batch of bright yellow curry sauce with vegetables, sunny-hued, and sprinkled with Penzey’s Sweet Curry, given a few hours notice to defrost, waiting to be poured into a pan with sliced chicken and served over fluffy basmati rice.
But recently, I longed for tomato sauce, rich, and deep, and flavorful. There is no jarred sauce on the shelf at the store that could live up to my craving. At first I made a smaller batch using organic canned tomatoes and it was heavenly. But then it was gone.
So I greedily purchased restaurant sized tins of tomatoes, both whole and crushed, and went to town. I lugged my giant All-Clad pot up from the basement.  The pot, which I save for special occasions such as soup or chili or pasta for a crowd, is always a happy sight waiting on the stove. And then I went to work.
I poured in the luscious olive oil, sautéed the onion, the garlic, the dried herbs, the crushed red pepper, just a touch, and added a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. I poured in the juicy crushed tomatoes, the bright red whole tomatoes and their juices, the tomato paste, and brought it all to a lively bubble. The transformational moment however, was when I poured in some leftover Cabernet Sauvignon, and within minutes my house smelled like my favorite Italian restaurant in Queens and I realized I discovered their sauce’s secret–wine!
I happily let the concoction simmer away for an hour and a half while my windows became steamy and fog-coated, shutting out the grey day outside, and for a while, it was just me and the sauce. Stirring occasionally I began to see a change—the whole tomatoes melted into the voluptuous rosiness , the molten liquid thickened, even the sound of the bubbling changed. I started to see the world differently as a place where time travel is possible, to go back to summer, or to launch ahead, but unnecessarily so, as the present was a mighty fine place to be in too.
Letting the sauce cool and ladling it into seven quart-sized mason jars felt like I’d won the grand prize. Admiring my efforts, bright and cheery, awarding me with simple joy, jars sitting on the counter waiting for their marching orders.
Well, six, into the freezer they went, and the seventh stayed behind to be devoured that very night for dinner by the five of us spaghetti-slurpers. The rest will have to patiently wait their turn for their moment of glory at my table.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The recipe below will make a nice sized batch of sauce, but to prolong your happiness, triple the recipe and store in the freezer for long winter days to come.
Homemade Winter Tomato Sauce
  •        ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  •        1 medium onion, chopped
  •        6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • ·         1 teaspoon each: dried oregano, basil, and marjoram
  • ·         1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ·         1-28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes packed in juice
  • ·         1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • ·         2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ·         ½ cup red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
  • ·         3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1.      In a large saucepan heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender and translucent but don’t let it brown (lower the heat if it begins to brown). Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes stirring often. Add the oregano, basil, majoram, and crushed red pepper, stirring to combine.
2.      Add all of the tomato products: the whole tomatoes, the crushed tomatoes, and the tomato paste. Stir combine. Add the wine and stir again.
3.      Bring the sauce to a lively simmer and keep it there on medium-low heat, stirring often to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. (If you have a mesh splatter guard put it on top of the pot. If you don’t have one, just wipe up any tomato splatter later.)
4.      Cook for about an hour and a half or until all of the whole tomatoes have broken down and the sauce starts to look thick and smooth. Puree with an immersion blender.
5.      Pack into two quart-sized jars and let cool. Eat some, freeze some, awesome, sauce-some!

Rockin’ Shakshuka, Breakfast of Kings

This summer I went to Israel, lucky me. I stayed in the luxurious King Solomon Hotel.

And while my travel mates were gorging themselves on the chocolate rugelach for breakfast (and who can blame them), I was madly, wildly in love with the shakshuka.

Not only did I have fun eating it, but talking about it was pretty awesome too. Go ahead, say it. Out loud. SHAKSHUKA!!! *fist raised in air* There!
You are now so empowered that you don’t really need that second cup of coffee to get you going (have it anyway).
I’ve had shakshuka before and frankly it was either too spicy or had too many bell peppers for my taste, but this, this was bliss. At the King Solomon, there were big metal trays of chunky garlicky tomato sauce with eggs poached on top and fluffy pita bread on the side. Warm and nourishing, and like almost everything in Israel, healthy.

So I put the chocolate rugelach in my purse for later (my grandma would be proud), but for breakfast, only shakshuka!

Shakshuka, King Solomon Style
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (not from a jar)
¼  cup extra virgin olive oil
1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes (Muir Glenn is my favorite)
4 to 6 good quality eggs
Pita bread (if you live in The Lou I command you to go to Pita Plus and buy it there)
Optional: crumbled feta, chopped parsley

   1.      In a medium to large sized skillet warm the olive oil and the garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes until garlic is sizzling. Make sure to keep it moving in the pan and do not let it brown.

2.      Add the can of tomatoes, a pinch of kosher salt and 1/8 of a teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicier).  Simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes.
3.      Crack desired amount of eggs on top, cover, and cook, 5 minutes for soft eggs, and 7 minutes if you like them cooked through.
4.      Scoop onto plates, sprinkling with feta, parsley, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper, which are all optional. Serve with warm pita bread, which is not. B’tayavon!