November 2009 Archives

Working With What You Have: Those Without a Kitchen

EVENT: Thursday Night “Home-Cooked” Meal
VENUE: Upper West Side Shelter for Seniors
TYPE: Sit-Down, (Paper-) Plated Family Dinner
MENU: Mediterranean Catfish Spaghetti; Salad; Cookies

For most of my life, I’ve felt more or less involved in my community. Back in high school and college, I often volunteered by way of class or curriculum at a variety of different organizations in New York City and Providence. It’s occurred to me over the course of this past year that since I’ve left school and have been without an institution that encourages such service, I have been rather selfish with my time. And while feeding twenty-somthings on a regular basis could be considered giving back to the community, my pair of capable hands could probably be better put to use at the service of a slightly more needy population.

Earlier this year, my mother began volunteering at a shelter on the Upper West Side. Every Thursday, the organization sponsors a special family meal for those staying under its roof, and for those who have since been placed in long-term, permanent housing but who return for the social services provided by the center. The guest “chef” of the evening is a volunteer who cooks the meal of his or her choosing, so long as it sticks to the semi-strict, and somewhat random Kosher guidelines of the shelter. No matter what is made, the Thursday night dinner is a bright spot in the shelter’s meal routine, which during the rest of the week is made up of frozen dinners and canned fruit for dessert.

Since my mother took over the Thursday dinner responsibilities, more members of the greater shelter family seem to be showing up for the meals. Her legendary reign began when she made my Sweet and Savory Moroccan Chicken Stew, which led to several rounds of thirds, and a few of the female volunteers asking to take leftovers home to their boyfriends. Though I believe this was the only recipe of mine that she has tried on the shelter crowd, I’ve been a frequent adviser the weeks she cooks, since the kitchen, unsurprisingly, is really quite small.

These conversations only fueled my feelings of community negligence. So a few weeks ago, I joined my mother to make twenty servings of Mediterranean pasta with fresh fish, a luxury the shelter folk rarely get to enjoy. The space was small indeed—you couldn’t open the pantry or front door while someone was manning the stove, and since there was only room for one at the stove station anyway, that meant I was chopping onions. The pasta sauce turned out brilliant, and though the residents came back for thirds once again, I was also grateful to be able to take a little of it home for lunch the next day (pictured above).

Thanksgiving is approaching, and it’s always around the holidays, as I am in meal planning overdrive—brainstorming how many baking dishes will fit in my oven at one time—that I try to remember those among us without kitchens. I hope there is some other wonderful mother putting aside her own family obligations this Thursday to cook up a Kosher feast at the shelter, as I don’t know what we would do come Thursday without mine. The holidays are such a busy time in our kitchens, but sometimes it can be even more rewarding to step into someone else’s, if only to feed those who are not fortunate to have one at all.

From my kitchen, ready to lend a hand in yours,



Mediterranean Catfish Spaghetti
Makes 16-20 servings


4 fennel bulbs, chopped
4 large Vidalia onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
4 (28oz) cans of crushed tomatoes
4 tbsp hot red pepper paste (or 1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes)
5 oz petite capers
1 ½ tbsp salt (plus more to taste)
4lb spaghetti or linguine
6lb cat fish filets or other white fish
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped roughly (for garnish)

In a large (very large) pot or dutch oven, sauté the onions and fennel in a generous glug or two of olive oil over medium-high until translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, red pepper paste or flakes, capers, and salt, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the flavors have combined.

Meanwhile, bring a large (very large) pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, toss with olive oil so the strands don’t stick together, and set aside.

10 minutes before service, gently add the fish filets to the sauce and push them down so they are submerged. Allow to gently simmer until the fish is cooked through. Be careful not to stir too much—you don’t want the fish to fall apart. It will easily, so the end result will be chunks of cat fish, but you want there to be sizable pieces to serve.

Top each plate with a helping of spaghetti and a generous ladle full of fish and sauce. Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley, and serve immediately.

Cooking For Others: 24 Candles, 48 Meatballs

EVENT: A 24th Birthday Din-arty
VENUE: Phoebe’s Parents’ Apartment, Upper West Side
TYPE: Large Buffet Dinner Party
MENU: Mini Meatball Subs; Wild Mushroom Mac ‘n Cheese; Pesto Mac ‘n Cheese; Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheese; Arugula Salad with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette; Big Kid Hot Chocolate (Adam); Red Velvet Cupcakes (Salima)

Birthdays are always kind of stressful. Every year I face the approaching day with a super laid-back attitude. And then the day arrives, and I realize I have to grate 6 pounds of cheese. The rational way out of this is, of course, that since I love to cook for people, why wouldn’t I want to do so for forty of my closest friends on my day of birth–and since I am a control freak, why wouldn’t I want to do so all by myself? Then, sometime during the afternoon of, when I am running two hours behind schedule, lugging grocery bags home, hungover, I curse myself for not doing shots at a bar at midnight and calling it a birthday. But the occasional beer tear aside, I always have fun doing things this way. I love stressing about feeding people. And on my birthday, I love it even more, because it distracts me from stressing about getting old.

This year’s planning and hair pulling was pretty tame, all things told. I decided to take a page out of Cara’s book and go with a retro theme: Mac ‘n Cheese three ways, Big Kid Hot Chocolate (a recent b-day fave) on tap, and the potential for a round or two of Jenga!. As the guest list grew, and the day grew nearer, I began to shiver like a Jewish mother with worry that 6 pounds of pasta (combined with over 6 pounds of cheese) might not be enough food.

In my time of crisis, I of course turned to Cara. For at least an hour, part of it on a crowded, uptown subway, I obsessed over the perfect combination of cheese type and pasta shape, and whether they would work with the butternut squash and pesto accents I had in mind. It wasn’t intentional torture, though it might have been for the other subway riders, but I did feel less guilty about my persistent menu pestering since Cara wouldn’t actually be able to attend the party. This news initially led to more stress over what I would do for dessert, since I draw the line at baking my own birthday cake (luckily, birthday goddess Salima came to the rescue with 50 homemade red velvet cupcakes).

But I also wanted to do something for the carnivores in the crowd, something that would cut the cheese (te he…) with something straight-up savory, meaty, and delicious. I landed on Mini Meatballs Subs—spicy, saucy, and just small enough to be self-served inside a dinner roll. Cara gave me her seal of approval, followed by a few text messages of encouragement from Pittsburgh the day of.
The meatballs fulfilled all my greatest birthday hopes and fears, especially by the first few guys who walked in the door, tasted a sub, exhaled a mumbled expression of glee, and proceeded to inhale the rest. Forty-eight meatballs later, the pot was empty, and the first 20 guests were congratulating themselves on being the luckiest diners at the party. Oh well, I’ll just have to make 75 more for next year.

From my kitchen, where I aim to eat my age in meatballs, to yours,


luckily, there was plenty of Big Kid Hot Chocolate to go around


Mini Meatball Subs
Makes 50 balls


For the meatballs:

1 large onion, grated
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/4 cup
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/4 cup
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
3 large eggs
¼ cup ketchup
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1 ½ lb ground beef
1 ½ lb ground veal

For the sauce:

2 large onion
6 garlic cloves minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, chopped
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the meatballs and fold them together thoroughly with your hands.

Roll the meat mixture into 1 ½ inch balls and place them next to each other on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil. They can be fairly close together, as they will not expand like cookies.
Bake them in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until tops have browned and the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or saucepan, sauté the onions until translucent and soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional two minutes. Carefully pour in the tomatoes, salt, red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture has thickened and the flavors have incorporated.

Puree the sauce in a food processor or using an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the chopped parsley use the remaining leaves for garnish. Gently fold the meatballs into the sauce and cook for five minutes more.

To serve, place the meatballs in a shallow bowl and set along side a bowl of small diner rolls (sliced halfway down the middle like hot dog buns). If you cannot find these in the bakery department of your grocery store, you can use mini hot dog buns, or cut some buns in half. Allow guests to serve themselves, and place toothpicks on the side for those modern ladies who want to skip the bread.

Pesto Mac n’ Cheese

Makes 12 servings

This recipe is a play on the Conchiglie with Five Cheeses I served for Matt’s baked pasta bash back in April. Instead of the tomato base, I used pesto. And to make the texture slightly more mac-like and cheesy, I bulked up on the Fontina and left out the Gorgonzola.


2 lb conchiglie rigate
4 cups heavy cream
2 cups pesto
1/2 lb shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan (reserve some for garnish)
1 1/2 cup fontina cheese, coarsely grated
½ cup ricotta cheese
2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 500 degrees

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt well, and cook the pasta for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine cream, pesto, cheeses, and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the pasta and toss to coat.

Spread pasta mixture evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is tender.

Sprinkle with Parmesan and torn basil leaves and serve immediately.

pesto Mac n’ Cheese, along side a stray Miley cup (back left)

Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese

Makes 12 Servings

The base for this mac is very similar to that of the mixed mushroom version I borrowed from Barefoot Contessa. I used two types of cheddar, one creamy and orange, one white and sharp, and I added some spices when roasting the squash to offset its sweetness.


For the Squash:

1 large butternut squash (about 2lb), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper

For the Mac:

2 lb elbow macaroni
1 stick of butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts whole milk, scalded
24 oz extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
16 oz mild orange Cheddar, grated
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp salt
4 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup chopped sage leaves
3 cups fresh white bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a cookie sheet, toss the squash with nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until the squash is tender and beginning to brown, but not falling apart.

In the meantime, make the white sauce. In a large pot, heat the butter over a medium flame until melted. Whisk in the flour until fully incorporated. Add the milk, turn the heat down to low, and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sauce is thick, creamy, and coats the back of the spoon. Off the heat, mix in the cheese.

Cook the pasta according to package direction until 1 minute shy of al dente. Drain and add to the cheese mixture along with the squash.

Fold everything together carefully, and pour into one or two large baking dishes.

Pulse the garlic, sage, and bread crumbs in a food processor and sprinkle over the top of the pasta.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbling.

Recipe Flash: Autumn Pasta Salad

The other week I came upon a recipe on Sprouted Kitchen for Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas. I loved the idea of combining fresh ginger and lime juice with some of the more typically “Fall” dried spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. I used butternut squash instead of the potatoes suggested, since I had it on hand. The result was delicious, if a little less caramelized than I normally like my squash due to all the moisture in the marinade. (If you try Sprouted Kitchen’s version, I might use a slotted spoon to transfer the veggies to the sheet pan instead off pouring out all of its contents).

Since the flavors were what I most admired about this recipe, I was inspired to try it again, this time as part of a dressing for pasta. I sometimes miss tangy, veggie-filled pasta salads once Fall comes around, especially as a bed for simple roasted or grilled chicken. This orzo salad takes two of my favorite autumn veggies—Brussels sprouts and butternut squash–and slow roasts them with all the spices from Sprouted Kitchen’s recipe, then tosses them with a rich, flavorful, autumnal dressing that is more akin to a pesto than a vinaigrette. You can use any pasta you like, but I like the way the orzo absorbs all the flavor of the fresh ginger, bright lime juice, and sweet honey.

From my kitchen, albeit small, to yours,



Squash & Sprout Orzo Salad with Ginger-Walnut Dressing
Makes 4-6 servings


1 small (2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces
One 15-ounce can chickpeas
2 large shallots, sliced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and halved
1 pound orzo

For the vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons ginger, chopped (about 2 inches)
2 garlic cloves, pushed through a press
1 shallot, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 lime, juiced
3 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
dash cayenne pepper
¼ – 1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a cookie sheet, combine the squash, chickpeas, shallots, salt, cinnamon, honey, and nutmeg. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with your hands so everything is well covered with spices and oil. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until squash is caramelized but not falling apart.

On another cookie sheet, drizzle the sprouts with oil and season with salt. Roast these at the same time as the squash for about 15 minutes, redistributing occasionally until they are brown and crispy all over.
While the veggies are roasting, pulse the ginger, garlic, shallot, and walnuts together in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the honey, mustard, lime juice, vinegar, salt, and cayenne. Drizzle in the olive oil until the dressing consistency is in between that of vinaigrette and that of a pesto—you don’t want it too thin.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orzo according to package directions until al dente. Drain and toss the warm pasta with the veggies and the dressing. Taste for seasoning and add any salt as necessary. Serve the pasta warm or at room temperature.

Root Vegetable Gratin

EVENT: Welcome Home Essie Potluck
VENUE: Phoebe’s apartment, obviously
MENU: Root Veggie Gratin (C); Squash and Sprout Orzo Salad (P); Eggplant Parmesan, & Pasta Pomodoro with Ricotta Cream (Jennie); Ginger Salsa (Essie); Tofu (Leora)
MAIN CONTRIBUTOR: Jennie, obviously

We welcomed Essie home from her two year sojourn in Mozambique with a classic rendition of the everybody-contributes dinner party we’ve made a standing tradition in her absence. In this case, we had a little bit more of the socialist mentality than usual. Those of us not coming straight from work brought dishes that were a bit more involved or abundant than those who had had long days. So I spent a couple hours putting together this slightly time-consuming gratin, and Phoebe roasted a garden patch of vegetables to make this Autumn Vegetable Pasta Salad. But it was Jennie who really must have been cooking all afternoon on her day off from the restaurant where she’s a chef–she brought over at least 3 pounds of pasta coated with a slightly creamy tomato sauce and fresh ricotta or sausage for garnish AND an entire pan of Eggplant Parmesan.

This gratin needed to be reheated at Phoebe’s, which doesn’t qualify it as the most ideal contribution to a potluck. But it’s a great side to a dinner party that it doesn’t have to travel to, and I can imagine it as a rich main dish with an interesting salad, or next to some kind of roasted pork or chicken. Either way, it speaks to the season, and it’s now infused not just with the flavors of cream, garlic, and cheese, but also of the sweet taste of dear Essie’s return.

From my kitchen, contributing veggies in cream, to yours,



Root Vegetable Gratin
Serves 8 as a side dish

I’ll often make a gratin with a bechamel. Using cream in this case makes the gratin richer but the flavor simultaneously clearer.

1 cup heavy cream
3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 small sweet potato, sliced
1 delicata squash
1 cup sliced small potatoes, such as fingerlings or Yukon Gold
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup mixed cheese–I like the combination of gruyere and Parmesan

At least two hours before serving the gratin, combine the cream with the garlic and the thyme in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, watching carefully as cream tends to boil up and over the side of the pot very suddenly. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the flavors steep for 45 minutes or up to 3 hours. Remove the garlic, and, if you have a sieve, strain out the thyme. (If you’ve got any cheesecloth lying about, you can also put the herbs/garlic in a bouquet garni.)

When you’re ready to make the gratin, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potato and peel and clean out the squash. Cut all the vegetables into very thin slices–you’ll want to halve the sweet potato and the squash lengthwise, but unless the fingerlings are very wide, you can leave them round when you slice.

Toss all the vegetables into the infused ream, using your hands to distribute evenly.

In a 9-inch round pie pan, start to layer them in the pan, moving from the outside in, overlapping each slice with the one before it. This won’t happen very evenly, since you’re working with all different shapes and sizes, but once you’ve got the slices in there, it’ll start to look pretty.

Once you’ve completed a layer, sprinkle it with half the cheese. Repeat the overlapping layering of vegetables, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Uncover and bake another 25 minutes until the top looks very brown. Serve hot.

Big Girls, Test Kitchen: A Centerpiece Salad

DISH: Arugula Caprese
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Arugula, Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Pinenuts
MENU: Prosciutto & Fontina Panini with Arugula Pesto; Espresso Biscotti

I love Caprese Salads as much as the next home cook. They are simple to make, can be assembled in advance without worrying, like other salads, about soggy greens, and once the platter is complete, the result is downright beautiful. Every time Leora brings her token Caprese to Mag Club, it always ends up the centerpiece of the table, my pictures from the evening, and, regardless of the repeat performances, my plate.

But if my past menus have been any indication, I often feel cheated when a salad fails to hit that traditional note of crisp, vinegary greens. Perhaps it was my mother’s love of spinach and avocado dressed simply with white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, ample salt and good good olive oil that made me a lifelong greens girl. But I just don’t feel a meal is quite complete without some tossed lettuce on the side to cleanse my palate–or satiate myself with so I don’t get sick from additional portions of Mac n’ Cheese.

I often feel torn though about putting out a regular salad when a meal is served family style on the table. This may have never been an issue for my mother, thanks to her beautiful hand-painted salad bowl (a crafts project we did together 15 years ago). But my plain Jane mixing bowl doesn’t quite have the grace to stand up to accompanying platters of Lamb Bolognese or baked Conchiglie with Five Cheeses. Not the same wow factor as, say, a colorful perfect platter of Caprese.

I had my old friends Ali and Adrienne over for dinner last week and knew I wanted to make my Prosciutto and Fontina Paninis with Arugula Pesto to remind Ali of our time together in Rome. I have a habit of serving simple sandwiches, soup, and salad for casual weeknight dinners, especially when my roommate Caitlyn is attending, since she is easily won over by any variety of grilled cheese.

On this occasion, given the Italian theme, I wanted a more substantial salad we could place in the middle of the table and feast on in between bites of panini. My solution was a hyprid caprese, made with peppery greens piled in the middle, which elevated both everyday salads to one true centerpiece. The arugula is dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and topped with toasted pine nuts and shaved Parmesan. Of course, if you have leftovers of the pesto itself, don’t be shy about drizzling it over the tomatoes and mozzarella for a final, colorful flourish.

From my kitchen, torn up over salad, to yours,



Arugula Caprese
Makes 4-6 servings

This hybrid salad is really just a great way to make the greens gals like myself happy, while creating a slightly more exciting dish to put on the table at a dinner party. You can use spinach instead of arugula, but I really like the peppery bite the latter adds to the creamy cheese. And of course, if you don’t have pinenuts on hand, you can omit them or substitute whatever nut you fancy at the time.


3-5oz baby arugula (depends on the size of your plate/platter)
2-3 large plum tomatoes, sliced
½ lb fresh mozzarella, torn into rustic pieces
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan shavings (optional)

For the vinaigrette:

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil

Arrange the tomato slices around the end of the platter so they slightly overlap. Place a piece of torn mozzarella on top of each tomato.

In a mixing bowl, toss the arugula with ¾ of the dressing. Pile in the middle of the platter, at the center of the tomato-mozarella circle.

Top with the toasted pinenuts, shaved parmesan, and drizzle the remaining dressing over the cheese and tomatoes on the perimeter.

Baking For Others: Cookie Giveaway – Part 3 of 3


For our last and final winner (here are winners #1 and #2), we selected

Lida Mary Sunderland, who wrote:

“I thought I’d make a pitch for wheat-free cookies. I was recently forced to go wheat-free…and meat-free, soy-free, plus a few more restrictions (which in part is why I’ve been absent from supper club)…but this doesn’t mean i’ve gone taste-free, oh no no. So. There are many rice flour recipes out there but of late I’ve fallen back in love with coconut macaroons, no wheat sub required. Add chocolate or carob, be it chips or dips? Perfection.”

Using Lida’s restrictions as well as her taste for chocolate and coconut, we turned to these airy yet chewy, gluten-free cookies. Getting rid of ingredients from butter to flour to egg yolks rends these quite minimalist, though they don’t taste it. I first came across the recipe in Shape magazine last holiday season. Shape is not ordinarily a place I go to for cookie recipes, but since they were modified from a recipe by chocolatier Payard, I gave them a go. For Lida, I modified the flavors some, but the macaroon-like chocolate-sugar-egg white base is all Payard’s.

From our kitchen, sharing the cookie love with yours,



“Free” Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 20 large cookies

1/2 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut
2 1/4 cups sugar*
3 tablespoons cornstarch*
1/4 cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (I prefer natural but you can use Dutch process)
large pinch salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)
3 large egg whites, at room temperature

*Note: you can also make these simply with 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar + cornstarch. I couldn’t find confirmation on my powdered sugar box that it really was gluten free, so I played it safe.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake them for two minutes. Add the almonds to the tray and bake for 3-4 minutes more until the nuts are fragrant and just barely golden. Transfer to a bowl to cool. When cool enough to handle, break the walnut halves unevenly into smaller pieces. Spread the coconut on the baking sheet and toast it for 3-4 minutes until slightly golden. Add it to the bowl of nuts.

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a blender. Process on high speed for several minutes until the mixture is quite flaky and no longer very gritty.

Transfer the sugar to a large bowl. Whisk in the cocoa powder and the salt, then add the walnut-almond-coconut mixture and the chocolate chips if using and stir to combine. Add the egg whites and stir just enough to moisten all the dry ingredients.

Spoon about two tablespoons of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet in a circle, leaving several inches between cookies as these spread a lot.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the baking sheet once. The cookies will spread and puff up and become slightly crusty and crackled. Cool on a baking sheet.