Cacio E Pepe

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 29th, 2015

Pasta is important when you want to feed yourself well on a regular basis, and so I’m delighted to introduce a new post by Carly Diaz, one that’s about loving pasta in its homeland, Italy, and bringing it back home to the kitchen. Don’t miss her last story, about gyeongdan–Korean sweet rice cakes.

There is nothing that makes you feel like you’ve crossed over into adulthood like boarding a plane unaccompanied and destined for an international adventure on your own. When I was 20, I headed to Rome for a summer abroad program comprised of two courses: Roman Art and Architecture and Italian Film. Unofficially, I planned to study how to fill myself with pasta and vino on a student budget. It was my first experience traveling alone in a foreign country and I was eager to seem confident as I explored all aspect of Italian culture, especially its cuisine.

On the first evening at student orientation, I was introduced to Roman-style pizza topped with potatoes. Carb overload and delicious. The next day, I went to a restaurant in a few streets down from my apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood. I can’t recall what drew me to that particular restaurant, but I vividly remember the ravioli and how I nearly melted into my plate at the first bite.

I was completely sold on ravioli, ordering it at nearly every restaurant until I found myself in a small village on the outskirts of Rome renowned for its gnocchi that restaurants cooked up every Wednesday. Then I was ordering gnocchi at every turn.

I had consumed plenty of pasta in my life, but eating pasta in Italy is an experience unto itself. Each dish was better than the last, I thought it couldn’t get any better. And then, I was told I needed to try cacio e pepe. “It’s pasta with cheese and pepper. Delicious!” Not exactly an award-winning sales pitch, but I was dedicated to culinary exploration. The next time I saw cacio e pepe on a restaurant menu, I reluctantly passed over the ravioli, gnocchi and tortellini and ordered a plate. Delivered steaming, the twirls of noodles looked unremarkable. As I plunged my fork into the bowl, I observed an abundance of melting cheese and flakes of pepper.

Batido de Mango

Posted by on Monday Apr 27th, 2015

Throughout Central and South America, you can taste fruity milkshakes made out of local tropical fruit from papaya to mamey. They’re thick, cold, and delicious, but they don’t leave you feeling as indulged as a hot fudge ice cream milkshake.

Before I left for Cuba, I checked a cookbook out of the library, to brief myself on what I’d be eating. The book, written by a Cuban-American who grew up in Cuban Miami, promised plenty of rice and beans, all kinds of sandwiches on freshly baked bread (not just “Cuban sandwiches”), and fruity milkshakes, also known there as batidos. Excellent, I thought.

Mango Smoothie RecipeBut then when I got to Cuba, I didn’t see any fruit milkshakes, not anywhere. I would have looked for them at the stalls of big markets, but there weren’t any big markets. Instead, the Cubans I saw queuing up for cold treats were in from of the ice cream parlors (and man, did they queue!). At breakfasts at the hotels and casa particuliers, we drank incredible fresh juices from papaya, pineapple, and mango. But no batidos.

The Food Markets of Cuba

Posted by on Thursday Apr 23rd, 2015

In Cuba last month, I kept my eyes on the food.

In a world where we’re always seeking out the new, making and remaking an old favorite has the advantage of propelling us towards perfection.

That’s what happened when Alex and I made pasta with tomato sauce a weekly dinner staple, its assembly a cherished routine. He makes the sauce, and I assemble the dish. As he’s grown to know exactly how the garlic should look and smell when you’re ready to add the tomatoes, I’ve determined the right scale of acidity to richness (olive oil, parmesan), and how to melt mozzarella in the bottom of the bowl so each forkful of pasta includes a cheese pull. These days, our pasta with tomato sauce has gotten really good, because of a few particular ingredients and techniques.

I know this might sound simple, even trivial, the idea of going through a dish that a lot of you could make in your sleep in such detail. But with a couple extra flourishes and some mastery of timing, I think you can transform a ho hum dinner into the kind of food that reminds you why you cook, why you eat, and why you rarely need to order take-out.

For a two-person dinner and leftovers, you’ll need 3/4 pound of pasta (any shape), one 28-ounce can of whole plum tomatoes, an onion, as much garlic as you can stand peeling, a hunk of parm to grate, and some good olive oil (if you care). I sometimes put mozzarella into my pasta, but the dish is also good without.

Here’s the step by step.

Warm Chocolate Pudding Cake

Posted by on Wednesday Apr 15th, 2015

We seem to remember the gooiest desserts best. Puddings and cakes that feel familiar gratify us like no dolloped, perfectly assembled, fancy sweet ever can.

Almost every reference to Chocolate Pudding Cake comes with a heap of nostalgia. People remember the one-pan dessert when they think of their grandmothers, their church groups, and the way they cooked in the 1980s. The method is miraculous, and it wedges itself in your memory. Here’s how the process goes: after you stir together the thick batter, you sprinkle sugar and cocoa on top, then finish the assembly with hot water. The oven transforms this odd organization into a light chocolate cake that sits on top of a lush chocolate pudding. You scoop up from the bottom, so every portion gets cake and pudding and tastes like a fluffy brownie topped with hot fudge. Ice cream happily melts on top.


The recipe appeared on the HERSHEY’S Cocoa can in 1992, 1993, and 1997, though an early version appears in the archives as far back as 1981, according to Linda Stahl, manager of HERSHEY’S Kitchens. The recipe was already iconic by then, circulating among family and friends. The back-of-the-can recipe has a decent amount of sugar, some of it brown sugar, which heightens the chocolate-y taste from the cocoa.

For the last two summers, we’ve been members of a CSA. The twice-monthly vegetable deliveries have kept us feasting healthfully on the most seasonal stuff without a lot of effort. But this year, with a new very sunny roof deck attached to our apartment, we decided to try something different.

We’re planting vegetables.

I jumped in with a two-session course about small space gardening at the NYBG last month, which made me feel simultaneously overwhelmed and excited. Now that the soil’s warming up, we’re solidifying plans and browsing seed catalogs. Here’s what we’re going to do:

  • Get two EarthBoxesThese containers were recommended for their drainage abilities in particular. It’s going to get really hot up on the roof, and we’ll have to water a lot. With good drainage, we won’t have to worry about drowning our plants. We’re putting the containers on casters, so we can move them around the roof til we find the best location with respect to sun and wind. Our landlords also left some containers–there are chives (see them in between the Adirondack chairs?) surprising us in one!–so we may make use of those, too.
  • Keep the rest of the equipment to a minimum. Small kitchen, small shed. So far, the list is: gloves, soil thermometer, watering can, popsicle sticks (for labeling), hose, organic potting soil, and organic fertilizer. And seeds. Later in the season, we’ll figure out supplies for trellising, should our beans or tomatoes make it that far. The idea is also to keep the budget in check and avoid the $64 tomato problem.
  • Plant radish and carrot seeds in the containers before we leave for a two-week trip in late April. If it rains while we’re gone, maybe we’ll be on our way to early radishes. If the plants wither, we’ll plant again when we return, plus add herbs and greens. What gardeners know and I’ve just discovered is that you have to embrace trial and error. So this will be my first exercise.
  • Prioritize low-energy plants with a short time to harvest. I’d never thought about veggies this way before the course, but it makes so much intuitive sense. Plants grow roots and leaves first, then spend more energy to develop flowers (broccoli, for example) and fruits (like peppers). So if there’s a plant where you eat the roots and leaves (carrots, radishes, lettuces), you’ll be able to harvest more quickly. That also means there’s less time for things to go wrong. I’m still going to try planting some pole beans, cherry tomatoes, and peppers once a few small harvests of roots and leaves have actually come up.

Do you have a garden? Any tips? I’d love to hear any thoughts about starting out, not getting frustrated, and acquiring a green thumb.

P.S. The simplest way to prepare spring’s first radishes and scallions.

How to Make Your Own Chicken Biscuits

Posted by on Thursday Apr 9th, 2015

Most of the time, when I go to write a “complete guide” for this series, I have at least a solid relationship with the food I’m about to research and recreate. That’s because I’ve made a point to conquer only the most beloved classics like pizza, pancakes, and burgers.

But chicken biscuits are a beloved classic to many who adore Bojangles’, Popeyes, and Pies ‘n Thighs–they just weren’t on my personal menu. So, with the help of my friend Anika, who introduced me to the chicken biscuit at Cheeky’s, I pestered experts and tested recipes until I’d achieved some minor expertise. The result? Enough know-how to turn out flaky biscuits filled with crispy chicken tenders and condiments from cold gravy to jezebel sauce–all in my own kitchen. The full guide on how to master the chicken biscuit, over on First We Feast.