Tag Archives: Comfort Food

Cacio e Pepe

Someone recently asked for more commentary in my posts. This person may or may not The BF. No matter. A reader’s wish is my command!

One Saturday night I met my friend Celeste for dinner and we had no reservations. I don’t know if people outside of New York City realize what this means, but here in the Big Apple, that is dinner suicide. So we popped from restaurant to restaurant, hoping for an opening somewhere and finding nothing, except for Matthew Broderick at Morandi in the West Village. I bet Ferris Bueller doesn’t need a rez.

So finally, both of us having later plans, we found a little Italian spot and sat at the bar with glasses of wine and bowls of pasta and I tasted, for the first time ever, cacio e pepe. Let me break it down for ya: it’s noodles with butter, cheese, and pepper. It’s not rocket science. But holy… holy mackerel. I became obsessed.

So tonight I needed a little bit of my favorite. That… and I’m poor and had all the ingredients in my fridge. Hey rustic Italian!

On the menu:
Cacio e pepe
Serves 2 (…or 1)

6 oz. thin spaghetti
3 Tbsp butter, divided
2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated (WARNING: do not use the already-grated cheese you buy in a green shaker – that’s gross)

Boil salted water for pasta. In a non-stick pan, melt 2 Tbsp of butter. Add pepper and stir constantly for one minute. Add half a cup of pasta water to the pan and bring heat to a simmer. Once at a simmer, reduce heat to low and add cooked pasta. Add remaining tablespoon of butter and cheese and toss together with tongs until a thick sauce is formed, about 7 minutes.

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Comfort Food

I know everyone has their own version of comfort food, and that there are also standards in this food genre: PB&J, mac and cheese, hot chocolate. All the warm fuzzies you cave to when your day isn’t going quite as planned.

I am the proud owner of a beautiful new tart pan (thanks, Aunt Cheryl!!) and was planning on making some sort of apple tart with a thin layer of cheesecake-y goodness as the crust (bear with me, it’s still in the brain-stages). But last night was colder and darker than I thought it would be, and when I got home I found out an apartment in my building had been broken into (don’t worry, Mom, I’m fine). I needed my own version of comfort food and a snuggle in my bed with an old movie. Good thing I just got back from Rochester and the fridge was stocked with it.

I took this opportunity to plug one of my favorite cold-weather spots in Rochester. If you’re ever in town you have to stop by this place cause it’s the freaking best.

Schutt’s Apple Mill 1063 Plank Road, Webster, NY. This is the kind of small-town spot that hasn’t changed in the twenty-five years I’ve called Webster “home.” They may have added a few new products and removed the rabbits (why, Schutt’s, why?!) but the bins of apples, gallons of cider, and oh-my-god-good donuts are exactly the same. I’ve tried dozens of different ciders in New York City and none of them holds a candle to Schutt’s cider.

Also, it’s worth noting that you should pick up some cheese curds while you’re here. Cheese curds are the solid parts of sour milk, and they’re totally edible and insanely delicious. When I said to my friends, “I love their donuts! And cider. And the cheese curds!”, everyone made a face. I thought I’d explain.

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Mid-Week Comfort Food

Sometimes when things are stressful in life, in work, whatever, I come home and I want to cook but then I see the loaf of potato bread, the jar of peanut butter, and the ripe banana and I think, “Mom would totally let me have this for dinner right now.” This sandwich is a glorified and indulgent take on your standard PB&B (that’s peanut butter and banana for those of you not so quick on the uptake) and is more dessert than dinner but why the heck not?

The recipe is simple and the results are faaaantastic. Just make your standard peanut butter and banana sandwich to start.
Next, melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a frying pan and fry the sandwich on both sides for around 4 minutes, or until the bread browns.
In a shallow plate, mix together 2 Tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp of ground cinnamon. Once your sandwich is fried, dip it in the cinnamon sugar so both sides are coated.

And voila. Now… isn’t that better?

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Lucky Gnocchi Day

The remnants of a pesto/ham and tomato/marinara bowl of love

One of my favorite New York Deals comes in the form of pasta. All you can eat pasta, to be exact. On the 29th of every month, Piola in the East Village offers an all-you-can-eat special in which they walk around serving from giant bowls of their handmade gnocchi with different sauces that include traditional marinara, chicken and broccoli alfredo, four cheese, pesto, and a magical ham-tomato red sauce that I believe also includes unicorn tears and fairy dust. Yes, it’s that good.

Tell the waiter you want the gnocchi special and let the games begin. If you want more pasta, you leave your little card on green. If your pants are about to split, maybe consider turning the card over to red and the pasta man will stay away from your table. I know gnocchi seems like a heavy dish to offer endless bowls of, but there is a little story behind this. From Piola’s website:

“The story begins with a missionary arriving in a small village in Italy on the 29th of an unknown month. He arrived upon a very poor house asking for food. He was welcomed to their house and was offered the only thing they had on the table, ‘Gnocchi’. The missionary was very thankful for their warm reception and wonderful food. Soon after the missionary left the house, the poor family found some gold coins right under their Gnocchi plate… 
Since then the ‘Lucky Gnocchi Legend’ has gained recognition all over the world. Families gather together every 29th of the month and enjoy Gnocchi in order to have luck and prosperity in their lives. PIOLA has adopted this beautiful legend, ‘Lucky Gnocchi Day’.”

Piola also offers a plethora of other deals, and the food is incredible. Let me tell you, dear readers, February is a sad, sad month.

Unless it’s a Leap Year. Then we’re cool.

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ROC City Part 1: The Garbage Plate

Growing up in Rochester, New York, I never really understood why so many people would want to voluntarily call it home. It snows 9 months out of the year (yes, it snowed on Mother’s Day… that’s May 9, people), one of the greatest forms of weekend entertainment is a trip to Wegmans grocery store, and you can’t go out for a meal without running into your kindergarten teacher or your first boyfriend. However, now that I am a mature woman of twenty-COUGH, I see all the beauty that lies in The Flour City. That’s right. The food.

How could I have ignored the fact that the city I grew up in is famous for a flour mill, Genesee Beer, and Garbage Plates? Oh yeah, and Kodak… whatever.

This week, I’m going to share some of my favorite Rochester, New York treats in an homage to my hometown. It’s no New York or Boston, heck it’s not even Minneapolis, but it’s where I was born so it’s alright with me.

The Garbage Plate at Empire Hots

On the menu:
The Garbage Plate
Bread and butter (the requisite side dish)

This is how we do math in Rochester, NY. Don’t let anyone tell you different:

One plate / (macaroni salad + homefries) + 2 cheeseburgers + (finely ground beef sauteed with hot sauce and spices) + sauteed onions + ketchup + mustard = The Garbage Plate

Derivatives include substituting burgers for red hot dogs, fried fish, eggs (breakfast plate, duh) or the popular white hot dog, a Rochester special made from pork.

If you ever travel upstate, and yes this is the REAL upstate, you have got to go to the original Nick Tahou’s Hots for a Trash Plate. If you value your life and would rather not be shot, or if you simply want a Plate after dark (Tahou’s closes at 8PM because of all the crime they experience) go to Empire Hots in Webster, NY. It might not look pretty, but your taste buds will be singing a different tune.

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Why Don’t You…

Dear friends,

This weekend I’m taking off and I’m leaving my computer behind. I’ll be back on Tuesday with brilliant posts about Garbage Plates and sweet cheese Belgian waffles (you can hardly stand the wait, right?) but in the meantime I leave you with this list of things that I would be doing if I was staying in town this weekend. So…

Why Don’t You…

Get your drink on all sneaky-like at a speakeasy like Dutch Kills (27-24 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City) or Please Don’t Tell (113 St. Marks Place).
Or, opening this weekend and offering free hot dogs (I said FREE HOT DOGS! Go people, go!) in the old East Side Company Bar space on the Lower East Side, Painkiller. 49 Essex Street at Grand Street

Take a culinary vacation from impending rain, use whatcha got, and pretend you’re in Australia while you eat Fairy Bread in bed whilst watching Young Einstein.

Feed your sweetheart little dollops of heaven via chopsticks at Blue Ribbon Sushi. 119 Sullivan Street

Watch Food, Inc. or Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, both available instantly on your Netflix.

Bask in the lusciousness of a $26 pre-fixe lunch menu at Nougatine by Jean-Georges (1 Central Park West); none of the wallet strain, all of the succulent flavor that this famous French chef is known for.

Nurse your Sunday morning hangover with a stack of sour cream pancakes, heavy on the syrup, at Bubby’s (120 Hudson Street). Just don’t look too ragged. It’s a notorious celebrity hangout and you wouldn’t want to miss your chance to woo Justin Timberlake, now would you? Thought so.

Happy weekend, kiddies!

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Food Cart Friday

I have to blame my hatred for lunch on my lack of midday meal options during the week. Anyone who works in midtown Manhattan knows that after your hundredth Cosi salad, Europa “pressata” sandwich, or Cafe Metro wrap, you grow to dread your lunch hour and look to McDonald’s as a source of nourishment. It’s that dire.

It is in that vein that I am constantly on the lookout for new and exciting midday menu options. Introducing Mia Dona‘s meatball cart. For $7 from 12-2PM Monday thru Friday midtown lunchers can enjoy 4 tasty meatballs on fresh baked rosemary focaccia with melted caciocavallo cheese and spicy arugula ($6 gets you the meatballs a la carte).

On the menu:
Meatball sandwich

Verdict: HELLO MY LUNCH HOUR SAVIOR! My dining companion, Meagan, put it best: “At 12:51 I opened the sandwich. By 12:54, it was gone. That sandwich didn’t stand a chance.” The meatballs were done just the way I like them: mostly ground beef with just enough spice to hold them together and give them a robust Italian flavor. The bread was soft and salty, the cheese the perfect smooth complement to the Italian spices, and the arugula the touch of spicy freshness needed to break through all the heartiness.

The Meatball Wagon (too few phrases inspire the salivary glands like ‘Meatball Wagon’ eh?) has only been open for just over a week but the woman working the cart told me they’ve been selling out every day. We commiserated over the lack of lunchtime options for a midtown worker and I sheepishly told her I’d traveled sixteen blocks and three avenues for this tasty treat.

“I’m too lazy to make my own lunch sometimes,” I told her, woman to woman. Midtown worker to midtown worker.
She responded brightly, “But you’re not too lazy to make the long trip for a meatball sandwich!”
Thanks for pointing out the great lengths I’ll go to for a meatball sandwich, Cart Lady. Thanks a lot.

If you’re in the neighborhood (or even if you’re not…), Mia Dona‘s Meatball Wagon is worth the trip and the $7 you’d normally spend on a mediocre salad at Cosi. 58th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue

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Some people eat to live… we are not those people

My family has many traditions, most of them based on food. I’m pretty sure that when asked “What would you grab from the house in the event of a fire?” my parents would answer the same: the dog and the Adirondack Country Cookbook. I could be blindfolded with my nose plugged and still recognize the taste of the pancakes and the cinnamon swirl raisin bread. Since this cookbook is no longer around (or if it is, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! Seriously… we’ve been searching) I pdf’ed the infamous raisin bread recipe, sent it to one of my favorite childhood neighbors, and saved it on my hard drive in case our decrepit old family copy of the cookbook bites the dust.

It’s all about preserving the recipes, people. I mean… the memories. It’s all about preserving the MEMORIES.

On the menu:
Spiral Cinnamon Raisin Bread

If you are Carol Knapp… or you know Carol Knapp… let me know. This bread deserves many kudos. Thanks, Carol!

This bread can be served as is, but I like mine toasted with butter. But you probably already knew that I liked mine with a little more butter, now didn’t you?

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The Cheesiest Mac of them All

I cook because I love food, but I also cook because I love making other people happy via food. One time my friend Meagan came over around dinner time when I had made mac and cheese, and proceeded to eat three bowls of it. I couldn’t have been happier. There is no higher compliment to a cook than guests going back for seconds.

On the menu:
Mac and cheese with pancetta (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Serves 6 as a meal, 10 as a side

6 tablespoons butter, divided
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
1 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups (or less) whole milk
2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 pound macaroni (any medium-sized pasta will do: penne, orecchiette, gemelli, etc. – I used penne and gemelli here because it’s all I had in my pantry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and get a large pot of salted water boiling for pasta. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta; sauté until crisp, about 6 minutes. Add onion; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and garlic; stir 1 minute. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter; allow to melt, then add flour and stir 1 minute. [Now is a good time to start cooking your pasta - cook until al dente] Gradually whisk in 1 cup of milk; simmer until thick enough to coat spoon thickly, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in all cheeses. Whisk in more milk by 1/4 cupfuls until sauce is thick but pourable. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko and stir until very light golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Lightly butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add warm cheese sauce to drained al dente pasta; toss to coat. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over. Bake mac and cheese until heated through and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. [I added a little more cheddar to the top of mine, because I really, really like cheese... but if you're trying to avoid a heart attack, maybe leave off the extra]

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Italian 101

A lot of times, all I want for dinner is something simple, something that will take me 20 minutes and minimal ingredients, and something that will fill me up and leave me happy. So here is a simple tomato sauce recipe that takes almost zero effort and can be used in everything from lasagna to chicken parm. And if you’re cooking for one, you can make the full batch and freeze what you don’t use for the next time you want something quick and easy. Way better than takeout and way more satisfying than a jar of Prego.

On the menu:
Parmesan chicken with tomato sauce over pasta

Sauce:
Makes 3 cups
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, 1/4 chopped and 1/4 chiffonade for garnish
1 tsp red pepper flakes
28 oz crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Add olive oil, minced garlic, chopped onion, and chopped basil to a cold pot. Turn the heat to medium and stir until the ingredients in the pot are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Once the aromatics are fragrant, add the tomatoes and turn the heat down to low. Cook the sauce for around 5 minutes, taste, and add salt to taste. Let sauce simmer for another 15 minutes.

Chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 egg
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp olive oil

Pound chicken breasts so that they are each around 1 inch thick. Mix together panko bread crumbs and grated parmesan. Dredge chicken in flour, shake off excess. Dredge in egg, and then in parmesan/panko mixture. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add chicken and cook on each side over medium heat, for around 8 minutes on each side or until cooked through.

Make pasta according to directions on the box. Plate pasta and chicken and pour sauce over the top. Grate more parmesan over the top and add chiffonade basil.

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