Monthly Archives: February 2010

Just a couple of Francophiles, in an Italian Trattoria

I eat so well.  I was lucky enough to have two of the most delicious meals of this February two nights in a row.  Last night’s meal was so wonderful, it has earned its own entry (next time).  So for the time being, I will talk about tonight.

There’s something very inviting about ducking into a cozy, warm, candlelit trattoria with wood-fired oven pizzas on a bitter cold February evening.  I arrived at Pop’s, in Durham, about 15 minutes early – a delightful and unusual contradiction since I am pretty sure tardiness is in my genetic makeup – I am never on time, let alone early!  I scouted out the menu with plenty of time for decision making, but apparently Pop’s knows what I want (I just didn’t)!  I wanted everything on the menu.  Ok maybe not everything, but I found myself torn between a risotto with braised beef short ribs, mushrooms, porcini butter and reggiano, a pizza with house-made meatballs, toasted garlic, broccoli rabe and parmesan, and the grilled salmon with spaetzele, swiss chard, turnips and honey and whole grain mustard jus.  (Had I not eaten braised beef short ribs last night, I wouldn’t have given any other entree the time of day).  Don’t fret risotto, I’ll be back.

My good friend Donna made her way over and we decided to share a marinated beet salad over butter lettuce, with chevre and baby roasted, sweet pecans, tossed in some sort of vinaigrette.  We were each given a fluffy chunk of fresh focaccia and fruity extra virgin olive oil for sopping and drank some red wine.  Now I’m not a huge fan of beets, I’ve only eaten them a couple of times, but I am open.  The combination was perfect.  I love the texture of the butter lettuce and “butter” describes it fittingly.  I’m also not one to eat a lot of goat cheese, but the few times (recently) that I’ve let myself welcome it, have been in salads and it has been exquisite.  Chevre, I’m beginning to change my mind about you…  It’s a mighty good thing our taste buds evolve.

We both decided (smartly) on the salmon and were rewarded for our choices.  Tonight was the first time I’ve ever tried turnips and I can happily say I pretty much love all root vegetables.  It seemed like a first cousin to the parsnip (which I love) and they were sweet and tender and could have almost been mistaken for tiny potatoes.  I also loved the swiss chard and the homemade spaetzele they were mixed in with.  This was a really great autumn dish and it looked like one too, but hey, it also works for winter.  I think it just works for cold in general.

Donna and I are chatterboxes.  Every time we get together, we rarely come up for air, we speak so much.  We could talk you into a corner.  We’ll both get on ten million tangents and forget what we were talking about originally but then dive into something else.  I think we both feed off of each other’s fervent zest for life and I like that.   And travel.  We always talk about travel, and tonight, we talked about France.  I love how we conjure up future vacations to dream about.  I’ll always remember our California trip, the summer after I graduated from high school.  We flew to L.A and rented a car (a champagne colored convertible actually), and drove down to San Diego and Coronado and spent a few days there, passed through some great beaches on the way back up to L.A and then spent the remainder of our trip there.  We had a blast, shopping, eating, sightseeing and peeing in fancy hotel bathrooms.

Donna and I found out we both want to learn French and she says she’s going to get the rosetta stone.  Hopefully I can borrow it when she’s finished!  It makes since, we agreed, to learn French since we both seem to be enamored with all things French, and that I do believe, makes us Francophiles.  We talked about coq au vin and beef bourguignon and vacationing in Provence.  I told Donna how I’d love to spend a couple months living in Paris too, maybe teaching ESL for awhile and just taking in the city.  I just started reading goddess – Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life the other night and have been devouring it as if it were a piece of chocolate cake.  It’s beautiful and nostalgic and addicting.  She writes in such a brilliant, honest way, that really does read a lot like fiction and surprisingly makes me want to try making dishes I normally wouldn’t give much consideration to.  She makes me want to live in Paris and read cookbooks on park benches and stuff French baguettes with batons of dark chocolate.

It was a fun night, and after just writing to the music of the heartbreakingly lovely Jill Andrews (if you haven’t heard of her, I strongly recommend you check her out, she used to be half of one of my favorite bands, The Everybodyfields but has recently gone solo), I’m starting to fade.  Maybe if I am lucky, I will dream about France and baguettes filled with chocolate and a villa in Provence.


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Give me Cinnamon

I’m an odd one, people.  I don’t care for bananas, in fact, I loathe even the smell of them, yet I love banana pudding, banana cream pie and banana bread.  Don’t ask me why, I told you (I’m odd).  Now, I can say I love Molly Wizenberg’s banana bread with chocolate and cinnamon too.  So much in fact, I had to blog about it right after making it – I couldn’t resist.  The house still smells heavenly.

Let me tell you, I was impressed from the start.  I was in the mood to bake something, was dying to finally try a recipe of Molly’s (technically this is not her recipe, she adapted it after finding it somewhere else, but I found it on her blog, so that’s close enough for me), and I wanted something easy.  To say this was easy would be an understatement.  This was one of the most effortless tasks I’ve ever pursued in the kitchen.  It requires no whisk, no mixer, no separation of dry and wet ingredients.  The most amazing thing, is that all of the magic happened in the confines of a single mixing bowl – that’s it!  Not to mention, one can’t allow themselves to feel guilty over eating this treat, because it only has 2 eggs, no butter or other fats, and a reasonable amount of sugar.  And, there are three bananas, so you are getting your fruit ; )

As I was mashing the bananas, I couldn’t help but wrinkle up my nose in distaste over the smell (since as I said before, I loathe the smell of them).  However, once the blissful fusion of cinnamon, chocolate and bananas began wafting from the oven and over to the computer, where I was sitting, I knew I was in for an extraordinary treat.  My olfactory senses were tantalized and that beautiful, warm smelling cinnamon was more than enough to compensate for the less than favorable banana stench earlier.

Alas, upon opening the oven after precisely 35 minutes, the bread had boastfully risen, evenly, yielding a soft and fluffy cake-like bread with a nice crunch from the cracked sugar and cinnamon topping.  It was quite beautiful.  (Ignore the random white spots of sugar in my photo – it dispersed much better than it looks).

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar

(Adapted by Molly Wizenberg)

3 very ripe bananas (the size doesn’t much matter; medium to large works)
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For topping:
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter or spray an 8-inch square pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Add the eggs, and stir well to combine. Add the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and vanilla, and stir to mix. Add ¾ cup of the chocolate chips, and stir briefly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the batter in the pan, and top with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

*copied from Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette*



I could imagine this tasting wonderful cold as well, on a summer’s afternoon, as Molly describes, but I think I prefer it warm, exploding chocolate chips and fragrantly warm cinnamon.  Mmmmm…this is enough to dream about.

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What’s Inspiring Me Lately Part Deux

Lately it seems I’ve become increasingly inspired and excited by many things (sure, most of them happen to be food-related), but in a fervent attempt to make this post NOT just about food, I present to you this:

  • This podcast.  Matthew and Molly are a delight to listen to.  Their random and witty banter is genuinely nerdy and entertaining in the most lovable way, and in between sudden fits of laughter and anecdotes, they provide some helpful cooking tips and recipes.

  • Nina Simone.  I was listening to some of her songs in the car the other day (from a jazz mix I made way back), and she’s just incredible.  There’s no one like her.  Her voice is so distinct and I love that she was a classically trained pianist and civil rights activist as well.  When I listen to her music, I feel like I should be relaxing on a terrace of a Parisian apartment in the summer, having a cocktail and watching the sun go down.  My favorites are “Feeling Good,” “Just in Time,” and “Love me or Leave me.”

  • The rich, velvety, imagery-inducing musings on life, love, travel, and food, by Pat Conroy  (as well as the delicious looking recipes).  This was a gift I just gave my boyfriend (a big Pat Conroy fan), for Valentine’s Day, and he read me an excerpt about Pat’s honeymoon with his second wife, to Umbria.  This was the first time I had ever been exposed to his writing and I was hooked.  If this man can’t persuade you to visit Umbria or make biscuits, I don’t know who can.  I intend on stealing it when my boyfriend is finished reading it!
  • This restaurant.  It is my favorite.  Valentine’s dinner was spent here, dining in the “red room,” over crusty bread with kalamatta olive tapenade, bordeaux, duck confit salad (frise, grapes, walnuts, blue cheese, vinaigrette), “classic” moules frites (white wine, shallots, thyme, butter, maybe a hint of garlic), and gratin (elbow pasta, gruyere and lardons).  Nothing short of heavenly.  And the bartender gets my cosmo right every time (shaken violently for a long time, so it turns a pale coral color – never red).   Everything about this place is exquisite.  It completely transports you to the south of France.  You forget you are in Durham and not in Bordeaux or Provence.  I am forever indebted to genius chef Matthew Kelly, for making my stomach this happy.

And because of Vin Rouge, and my boyfriend getting me David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris, I feel as though I am on a big French kick, so I will also leave you with this French inspired playlist…I hope your Valentine’s Day was as lovely as mine.

  • “Melt with You” – Nouvelle Vague
  • “Married Life” – Michael Giacchino (from the Up soundtrack)
  • “La vie en rose” – Louis Armstrong
  • “C’est Si Bon (it’s so good)” – Eartha Kitt
  • “La Mer” – Charles Trenet
  • “La meme histoire” – Feist
  • “Little Waltz” – Basia Bulat
  • “You and I” – Ingrid Michaelson

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I say “I do” to Ragu

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA.  I’ve been a bit emotionally self-indulgent lately and much to my dismay, haven’t been feeling the creative pull.  I didn’t get to tell you about the French Toast Casserole or the Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic!

The french toast casserole was a delight to prepare and again, with french toast, I love recipes that call for some night before preparation.  All I had to do in the morning was pop the dish in the oven.  I loved how the brown guar totally caramelizes the bottom of the french toast when it’s baking.  I decided to dollop some extra butter and sprinkle some dashes of cinnamon and sugar on top before baking as well – good decision.  The top of the toast had just the right amount of crispness to it.  (I’m not partial to either soggy or overly crunchy french toast).  I prefer a happy medium.  Anyway, this is something I will definitely be making again, so thank you Virginia Willis!

As for the chicken, my boyfriend and I have made it twice now. It’s savory, juicy and will make you fall in love with garlic all over again.  We liked to mash some of the roasted garlic and spread it like butter on some toasted bread and also pour a little of the au jus over the potatoes we served it with.  It was yummy.  This dish is so easy you will almost feel guilty, because it is sure to provoke a raving reception among your eaters.  I will edit this post soon and include the recipe for it (it can’t be found online, so I will have to hand copy it out of my mom’s Bill Neal Cookbook).

Now, let’s talk about Ragu.

There’s something about ragu.  It’s a good thing my 1 1/2 year vacation from red meat is over with and I can enjoy things like ragu and the occasional hamburger.  I have to say though, I think I missed the ragu more than the burger, and I want to share with you two of my favorite ragu recipes.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of these dishes but just take my word on them…please?

The first one comes from (please don’t judge me), the actress and the mind behind the blog Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow.  Her recipe for Turkey Ragu is surprisingly low-maintenance and will make your kitchen smell like the best Italian restaurant on earth (and for several hours).  As long as you have a few hours for this glorious concoction to simmer, you’re set.  It’s the perfect thing to cook on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Spooned over a nice bed of rigatoni and topped with a sprinkle of shredded parmesan, accompanied by some good old crusty bread – it’s my kind of a meal.


1 lb. ground organic turkey (room temperature)

2 15 oz. cans plum tomatoes

2 15 oz. cans Italian chopped tomatoes

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

2 medium or 3 small brown onions, peeled and diced

2 sprigs rosemary

1 tsp. fennel seeds

salt and pepper

1 cup red wine

pinch of red pepper flakes

olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced


1. put a big glug of olive oil in a big sauce pan over medium-low heat
2. Add carrots, onion, garlic and let cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
3. Add red pepper flakes and bashed-up fennel seeds.
4. Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium heat, add olive oil and the ground turkey and throw in the rosemary. Really let it get a lovely deep brown on all sides and then add it to the soffritto scraping all of the bits from the pan in.
5. Season with pepper and fleur de sel (I like one mixed with Herbs de Provence) and stir well.
6. Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a boil and then add one cup of red wine (not one so cheap you wouldn’t drink it, a good wine makes a good sauce!).
7. Let it boil away for a few minutes. Turm the heat down to low and partially cover the saucepan. Let it blip away slowly and gently for a good 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring often.

Serve with rigatoni and freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan.


*as found on Epicurious, submitted bygretchentseng*

As for my other favorite Ragu, this recipe is from Jamie Oliver uses the traditional beef and I have to say so far, it is the best ragu I think I’ve ever had.  Gwyneth Paltrow’s is excellent and amazingly enough, you don’t miss the beef, because the turkey suffices just fine, since it is infused with aromatic rosemary, fennel, red wine and soffrito.  However, this recipe is even better I think.  Maybe because it’s more involved.  Maybe because Jamie Oliver knows a little more about cooking than Gwyneth does.  Either way, I strongly encourage you to make it.  Your taste buds will thank you.


Adapted from Jamie Oliver

Time: 1 hour 45 minutes with pressure cooker, 3 1/2 to 4 hours without

1 3/4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, in 2-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped leaves for garnish

2 sprigs sage

1 small red onion, peeled and cut in chunks

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

1 celery stalk, thickly sliced

2 cups Chianti

1 28-ounce can peeled whole cherry or plum tomatoes

1 pound pappardelle

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

1. Season beef with salt and pepper to taste. Place an uncovered pressure cooker or oven-proof Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add olive oil. When oil is hot, add beef. Stir until beef is well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add rosemary and sage sprigs, onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Add Chianti and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices, and if using pressure cooker, 1/2 cup water. Secure lid and pressure gauge of pressure cooker, and follow manufacturer’s instructions to bring contents of pot to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 45 minutes. If using Dutch oven, simmer, covered, in a 275-degree oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

3. Place a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat to bring to a boil. Remove pressure cooker from heat, or Dutch oven from oven. After pressure has dropped in pressure cooker, follow manufacturer’s instructions to remove lid. Using two forks, finely shred meat and vegetables. Discard herb stems. Loosely cover pan and return it to low heat to keep warm.

4. Add pappardelle to boiling water. As it cooks, scoop out 1/2 cup water and reserve. Cook pasta to taste, then drain well. Return pasta to pot, and add butter and 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano; mix gently until butter has melted. Add a little reserved cooking water to loosen.

5. To serve, lift pasta into each of six shallow bowls. Spoon beef ragù over top. Sprinkle each bowl with a pinch of orange zest and rosemary, and a spoonful of cheese.

Yield: 6 servings.

*note: personally, I leave out the orange zest…but that’s just me*

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