Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Tart

This was easy...I had no part in making it except for saying things like, "Yes, that sounds like a great dish", and "I think we should leave it in fifteen more minutes".

If you make your own pie crust this could be a bit more challenging...of course we cheated with the Pillsbury ready made. We then added the left over hand dipped Ricotta we used for the pancakes (after you place the crust in the pan, place the ricotta on the crust). Then, we topped with heirloom tomatoes. Bake at 350 for 1 hour and forty minutes (gotta render out the water from the tomatoes). The buttery flaky texture of the pie crust, along with the silkiness of the ricotta, and tart tang of the tomatoes make an excellent combination.

We made this dish last night in conjuncture with our fettuccine with baby artichokes and pancetta. For dessert we sliced some fresh strawberries and topped them with a 15 year old balsamic.

The occasion was my mother-in-law coming to town. On a surprise for our upcoming wedding anniversary she brought us a brand new kayak, along with some old shelves (we've needed help re-organizing our wine cave/food pantry). And to be honest, I had a smile on my face all night enjoying my wife and mother-in-law's company. In the background we had Edith Piaf playing, in our non-cooking hands, a decent Cab Sauv called, "The Show". And from start to finish it was just a nice celebratory night, enjoying each other's company, laughing, sharing stories, and oooing and ahhing all over the food we prepared. I might be rare saying I really love my mother-in-law's company. She's fun, loves to eat our food, and never passes to enjoy the moment. For almost 6 years now after meeting my wife, my life has been more and more enriched by that philosophy. Cheers to a really happy evening.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Comfort food comes in many ways. For me, pancakes are the tops, and every time I make them, nostalgia floods in. Back to the days when mom cooked, I slept in, and every Saturday she would yell, "Wake up, Pancakes are ready" would say something like, "Get your lazy ass out of the sack boy"...all the while it was 7am...sheesh.

At age 24 I decided to emulate my mother's pancakes strangely enough for the newest love of my future wife. She had never had scratch made pancakes. They were such a hit I started making them for my future mother-in-law and late father-in-law. And voila, out came a comfort food that made me smile every time I got in the kitchen.

And although I still think my mom's pancakes are dynamite, I have to say I've tweaked the recipe more to my liking. The secret for me is including whole fresh ricotta and buttermilk. Another must is mixing the wet and dry ingredients seperately, and when combining don't overmix, unless you like glue. Without futher adieu...

Matty's Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (Feeds 4)

1 Cup of Flour (any kind will do, I usually used unbleached all purpose)
1/2 teaspoon of Baking Powder
1 teaspoon of salt
(Mix these together)

2 egg yolks (Sepearate the whites in a seperate bowl)
1 cup of non-fat buttermilk
1/2-1 cup of whole milk ricotta (hand dipped stuff from Whole Foods I find is best)
(Mix these together)

Combine the wet and dry just enough that they are I said, don't overmix, if you see a few lumps of flour, that's ok

Now, beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks.

Fold the egg whites into the batter.

Now, with a hot griddle, pan, etc, scoop out the pancakes and cook.

A trick Meghan and I like to pull is grating fresh lemon zest into each pancake, and adding fresh blueberries.

A nice healthy trick is cutting up fresh berries for antioxidants and a natural sweet instead of dousing with syrup.

Lastly, top with maple syrup (don't go Aunt Jemima on me if you took the time to make such a gourmet dish)... you have a new family tradition.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Authentic Guilt

So yeah, I blogged about Tacos before...mmm, heavenly pulled pork tacos. However, I have a guilty cash only hole in the wall pleasure by the name of "Taqueria Juquilita". It's nestled between the yuppie dog wash/coffee bar called "Bark and Bean" and the local laundromat. Let's just say it's an interesting observation of affluent and poor. On one hand, people are paying groomers to wash their muddy hounds while sipping on their latte. Two doors down, you have folks who have no washer/dryer at their residence, doing the week's wash. If this were Manhattan, I'd buy's Annapolis, it may be the state capitol, but it's no thriving metropolis. Thusly said, an interesting observation of different people commercing withing the same string of building.

Having watched many episodes of Anthony Bourdain finding a "hole in the wall" joint with amazing authentic food, I decided to give this place a shot. The name...sounds authentic to only?...galvanizing my theory...Telemundo blaring some cheesy game show or campy soap opera in Spanish...getting warmer...posters of the cartoon "Bambi", a map of Puebla, Mexico, and various herbs growing in a sundry of pots in the window? I went to the counter and ordered...

Tacos galore, soups, burritos, heuvos rancheros, chicken mole...there is nothing on the menu that sucks. The food? could bring in Rick Bayless (the gringo expert on Mexican cuisine) and he'd agree. No dishes smothered with cheese, cream, and "flare"...just straight up simple food man. The chef...she's maybe 50ish, short, stocky, a bit wrinkled. Her hands are weathered yet glance into her eyes and I swear you can see into her soul. I've never interviewed her, but that one glance tells me everything I need to know about a chef...she lives and breathes what she makes. Her passion is her food, one bite and that's clear.

My guilty pleasure are the tacos. There are at least 10 different types to order...and if you like offal, you're in the right place. You can choose from tongue, tripe, head, cheek, barbeque pork, pulled pork, diced ground pork, even chicken...the options are endless...the tacos, a fresh house made double corn tortilla, meat, onions, cilantro, radishes, and salsa. Done..that's it, no 79 cent cheesy Americanized Taco Schmell.

As I munched on my "Huevos Mexicanos"(scrambled eggs with peppers, re-fried beans, rice, avocado, and queso fresco all piled into a yummy corn tortilla) for breakfast this morning I realized that America is finally trending back to these mom and pop places. More and more people are longing for homemade, simple, and fresh. And more and more, middle America is at least progressing past the T.G.I-McFunsters, and stepping out to an uncomfortable place...foreign people speaking a foreign language, with a hole in the wall establishment serving good food.

Authentic cuisine of the foreign country du jour is no longer limited to the big American cities. Our immigrants are finding life and work in our rural towns, and the shops are opening in your back yard. And as scary as it may seem to wander into a shop that doesn't speak a lot of English, these proprietors are as hungry to share their wares as you will be to enjoy them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

L'Academie de Cuisine

A brilliant friend of mine suggested I take my lovely bride for some sort of cooking class for her most recent birthday. On went the "Google Machine" and voila..."L'Academie de Cuisine".

A weekend of food...and who could beat that? We were set to cook two lunches, instructed by the founder of the Academie (Francois Dionot). The setting for the class was at the Mercersburg Inn, in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Basically, a Bed and Breakfast where you eat a nice breakfast, work for 3 hours on lunch, serve each other with a 4 course sit down (accompanied by good wine of course), and then have the afternoon to our instance, they had a cool "Man Room" downstairs complete with a pool table. We found a stray husband (his wife was busy reading) and played "Cut Throat Pool" for 2 hours. Meg and I, exhausted, elected for a reprise in the form of a nap.

The Mercersburg Inn

On Saturday night, the chef of the Inn shows off with an elaborate 4 course dinner (with wine..hello!), don't forget cocktails before and afterwards in the great sitting room cozied up to a roaring comfy fire.

Chef's Dinner Menu...

Asparagus with a Blood Orange Creme Sauce...Divine!

Perfectly Seared Tuna with a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Braised Short Ribs and Roasted Rutabaga

The classes were on French technique, yielding French food. The two dishes I prepared were a shrimp, chicken, and shitake mushrooms in a shrimp broth, and a dessert. The shrimp broth..breathtaking, absolutely voluptuous, sexy, silky, and unlike anything I have ever made. The secret? Using the shrimp heads and shells along with saffron...making your own stock makes a dish that much better.

The dessert...hard to title...something like a "Galette with Creme Patissiere, Poached Rhubarb, and Star Anise Creme Anglaise". The Creme Anglaise I had made before...simply, "Frozen Custard". However, making a pastry creme to place in a pipetting bag was new (Creme Patissiere), and poaching Rhubarb was new as well. The Galette...a simple shortbread cookie.

Meghan was tasked to dicing many an aeromatic the first day for her grouper, roasted vegetables with a parsley taragon sauce. Hence, she was less than pleased that she got to practice knife skills. Add insult to injury when one of her classmates salted the Grouper 90 minutes before it was to hit the pan...Francois our chef...pissed and dish..Francois was right, do not salt until it's ready to cook..dry..yecch...more sauce please!

Fillet of grouper with fresh vegetables & parsley tarragon sauce

On day two, Meghan learned how to de-bone a duck..what fun! I was wicked jealous. Then she learned how to sear a duck breast. Unfortunately her group lost out again when an overconfident student decided he knew what he was doing and overcooked the breast...hence, more yelling by again. The result...not medium rare, but still, they recovered with the Aus Jus...dang..roasting bones for duck stock works, who woulda known?

Pan Seared Duck Breast, Parsnip Puree, Duck Aus Jus

The weekend was a blast. We met a lot of new people, learned quite a bit about cooking from scratch, making stocks, de-boning ducks, and racks of lamb...invaluable tools towards becoming better cooks (and better people in my opinion). And although the chef sometimes yelled when you messed up, he did it for the passion of the ingredient and the dish it became. To paraphrase Chef Dionot, "A recipe cannot teach you to make a dish, you have to learn by making it, and then making it many times again." We were absolutely blessed to have such a talented and passionate chef (along with his sous-chef daughter and wife) take the time to help us learn French cuisine.

The experience was invaluable and recapitulates the respect we have for the culinary world. In many ways cooking has been glamorized by "Food Network" and "Top Chef", and in many ways these shows have brought cooks back to the kitchen. For Meghan and I, cooking is our way to communicate and work together, a way to strengthen our friendship and marriage. Food is our passion, and it was a pleasure to spend such a weekend with a group of passionate foodies and chefs willing to make us better at what we love to do.

Best Scallops I have ever had! "Pan Seared Scallops with a Three Potato Risotto"

"Galette with Creme Patissiere, Poached Rhubarb, and Star Anise Creme Anglaise"

"Shrimp with Poached Chicken, Shitake Mushrooms in a Shrimp Broth" Holy Schmokes was the Broth the best part of lunch!

Meg had fun!

The Shirt Says, "Bacon, It's What's for Dinner"

Before our Chef's Dinner

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bacon Makes Everything Better

What is better than a perfectly crispy potato hash, the nice aromatics of garlic and shallots, topped with easy over eggs and truffle oil?

Add ham...

But if you got it, use a nice thick cut artisianal bacon instead.

The dish today was awesome, but to totally quote my wife..."Everything is just better with bacon". And as Meghan raved in between bites saying, "Oh my God Matty, I'm so spoiled"...I kept thinking, "The caramelized ham adds such a salty savory quality...the truffle oil and fresh chives from the garden really makes this pop...I could bathe in a vat full of this runny yolk from the eggs...but something's missing".

That something was bacon...

It adds such a meaty, smokey, and chewy mouth feel (that's what she said) that elevates the dish to four star food porn. Like when Tom Cruise says to Rene Zellwegger in "Jerry Maguire"...."You complete me".

Bacon, you complete me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Stay or Leave

The Title is one of my favorite songs by "Dave Mathews". And listening to it has got me thinking about a soon departing friend.

Tonight, I want nothing more than to go out and enjoy someone else's toil in the kitchen. But what does one do when the invitation to stay home on your sun kissed deck seems more appealing? Do I just order pizza in?

Truthfully, it's deeper than that. I sit here torn due to nostalgia, to the thought of actually saying a painful goodbye to an old friend.

Remember the show "Cheers"? Go where everybody knows your name. We all have those places, those dive bars with sometimes really good food, or generally some kind of snack. They are the local speakeasies, the Towney places...and tonight we were dead set to head to a place that is now changing venues within the month.

The name: "The Mexican Cafe" Is it Mexican? Nope, it's mostly the bastardization of Mexican, it's what I abhor...

However, it's like crack...more specifically, the Margaritas are like crack. Rumored to be made with grain alcohol, they are the reason people go to this little dive. In the infamous words by Dave Chappelle playing "Samuel Jackson's" character in a spoof of "Samuel Jackson's Beer"..."It'll Get You Drunk"! And that's that. It's a place where you eat a wheelbarrow's full of chips and salsa, get shit faced, and proceed to eat that fatty greasy cheesy Meximerican goodness saying, "Holy Shit, this is so good!"

The owner's lease is running out and they are now relocating to a different place in town. A place you cannot walk to...cause seriously, no one should drive from it. Case in point, I once saw a 70ish year old lady so tanked she was crying after falling off the step. Literally she sat down on the pavement, and balled her little eyes out like an overdrunk sorority girl(I know because I used to see this in college)...her family members quickly carried her to the car. I'm sure none of them were driving sober.

The new locale is not a hole in the wall adjacent to a "Duck and Dive Bar" called the "Ebb Tide"'s in an upper scale part of town. In many ways for the business it actually might be commercially better...but it will probably no longer be that old dive, that place that was like an adult "Disneyland", or a poor man's Vegas.

I guess I just don't like change...

Yet I sit, contemplating do I even want to say hello and goodbye to this old friend one more time? Or do I just ignore that old friend and act like I was too busy to stop deadens the hurt you know? But so do those Margaritas.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


That's it, I'm done with ordering Pizza out...okay, well, I guess not because there is nothing like that salty yet savory lazy day New York Pizza after a long day of traveling. Or a long day of work paired with a nice glass of wine or beer.

But C'mon, America has Bastardized good pizza just like they have fucked up "Italian" or "Mexican". If you live in small town America you know what I"m talking about. "Real Italian" and "Mexican" in Middle America is just smothered with cheese and sauce. Thank you to the "TGI McFunsters" and "SchnappleBEAS" all over the planet advertising cheap eats, drowned with frosty mugs of domestic beer...ahhh, I abhor you, this is why we are so goddamned fat!

Excuse my digression, but this is why we cook. Why pay for overpriced meals that constantly fall short (Exceptions are of course excellent chefs)? Aha...yes, further digression would be the Pizza

First admission, we cheated, we have the recipe for dough...but we haven't yet made it fresh. Instead we snitch our dough from the local Italian Delicatessen, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Pizza Shop, or Grocery Store. Now heaven forbid you get those Boboli pre-made pre-baked crusts...yechh! You have to get the ball of dough, frozen or works, and it works well.

The type of Pizza we generally make is in emulation of the Classic Neopolitan originated in Naples.

You need a few other things to make your life easier:

1) Pizza Stone...they are pretty ubiquitous now, google it, or go to a kitchen store, it's essential for getting that nice crusty part to your pizza

2) Pizza Paddle: Another easy find...get it, make your pizza on it, but make sure to cover it with a generous amount of flour thus helping the dough not stick. Transfer to hot pizza stone in oven, cook till golden brown, spatula it back to pizza paddle (Meg and I first started with pan spatulas and cookie sheets and had a hell of a hard time, the right tools are essential).

3) Warm your oven to 500 degrees. Theory is, you're simulating those brick ovens from hot hot gets the dough to a crispy outer texture while keeping the inside insulated to that chewy almost half underdone mouth feel...melding with the ingredients.

4) Dough...and you don't have to try to spin it on your fists to a perfect disc. Just try and make it as circular as possible. Honestly, look at the pictures in Italy, the pizza turns out how it turns out...quite simply, it's bread with stuff on top, make it taste good to your liking.

5) Simple Simple Simple: We don't need all that horseshit "Meatlover Onionlover, Mushroom, Extra Ranch Dressing Topped Pizza" Start with some Crushed Red Tomatoes (Preferably from San Marzano...the best sauce tomatoes around, and they are easy to find, just something you don't know to look for), fresh Mozzarella (It comes in a ball, slice the ball and top on the pizza, dont' use the shredded kind), and Fresh Basil...done, that's it.

If you're feeling fancy, add some Meatballs. Find your favorite Meatball recipe. We do simple and fresh. The meatballs you're seeing on our Pizza were from "Molto Mario" Here's a simple recipe from a tried and true source as well:

6) Wine: If you imbibe, grab something to pair. Now pairing isn't that hard. If you feel something is easy drinking and you like it, grab a glass of it and accessorize with Pizza. We consider ourselves simple wine snobs. That means, If we like it we drink it.

7) Don't forget: For this type Pizza (The Margherita), when it comes out of the oven, sprinkle fresh Basil on top, Parmigiano Reggiano, and good Olive Oil. Most Importantly, do NOT forget a healthy dosing of freshly ground Sea Salt or Kosher Salt with freshly ground Black Pepper (We prefer Baleine Sea Salt and Tellicherry Black Peppercorns...these are easy to find).

Let it rest for a few minutes, cut to your desired slice, and enjoy.

Last night we enjoyed this with a great and overlooked movie called, "Bottle Shock", an entertaining history of how the Napa Valley came to the forefront of wine (overtaking the French in a blind tasting) in 1976. Cute movie, simple story, a little bit of drama. Grab a nice bottle of wine and thank your heavens you aren't killing your body with the preservative laden Middle American Bastardized Diet of "Real Italian Food".


I have heard you all would like me to share our recipes for our dishes. Aha, graciously noted. Please click on the links below for the recipes to the corresponding dishes. Starting from now on I will include the recipe for each dish I write about (unless we didn't cook it (Seared Foie Gras topped with Cotton Candy...I don't know how to make that one yet, but L2O in Chicago does...God bless Laurent Gras).

Banana Bread

Roasted Split Chicken with Mustard Crust

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

Spaghetti with Artichokes and Pancetta

Buon Appetito

Friday, April 2, 2010

I'm A Total Egg Slut

Uttered by my personal food hero Anthony Bourdain, my wife and I are enchanted by the simple yet complex nature of the egg. Morning, noon, or night, I can always whip up something...sandwiches, hash, seared duck breasts, and it is enhanced with an easy over egg on top. Nothing beats a beautifully cooked egg with that runny yolk contributing it's flavor, texture, and vitamins to your food.

Today's breakfast inspired me to write because Meg decided to make banana bread. The hour baking time wait with those sweet yet savory smells made us say, "Gotta make something to hold us over".

Get some leftover ham cold cuts, brown em nice and good with a quality olive oil, add some scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese (the sharpness of the cheddar cuts the richness of the eggs), I also add the simple ingredient of "Season All". Cook the scrambled eggs to your liking(we prefer a little bit undercooked as we abhor dry eggs...yechhh)...

On your plate...Cheesy Scrambled Ham and's incredible, edible, it's the Egg...

And they're not just for eating...last weekend my parents and I dyed Easter Eggs. Dad and I upped the ante with shots of Makers Mark and Beer to supplement the experience. The results were damn creative as we etched sketches of "Happy Easter", the police call box from my mom and dad's favorite Sci Fi show "Dr. Who" (fell asleep mid way through that show, still don't understand the appeal), and my favorite, "Hope =Crap" (my dad's distaste for Obama is more than palpable).

Point is, I love being part of a dynamic and wildly hand gesturing life loving Swedish/Irish family who makes some kind of excuse every day to celebrate life.