As a Chef there is nothing I like more than to peruse the aisles in a food store. I find that every store and neighborhood has its own unique character. When traveling, I especially love wandering in local markets to get a taste of the culture. People connect through food and I find that you can learn a lot about different cultures by studying the food they eat. I will pretty much eat anything, or at least try it, except for the time I went to a traditional Japanese restaurant with my Dad and he insisted on ordering the special called Namako even though he had no idea what it was in English. He promised it would be good and pushed the Chef to serve it to us even after he had tried to dissuade us. What we received was a beautiful plate with five raw sea slugs on it. I literally thought they were suctioned to the plate. Now, Namako is a delicacy in Japan but I had to say “no, thank you” and Dad was left on his own to eat those slugs as to not insult the Chef. So I guess the lesson here is to at least have an idea what you’re ordering before your order it. By the way, Dad to this day swears they were delicious….
I do love to experiment with different flavors and spices. If I see something I have never seen before I get excited thinking about how I can incorporate it into a recipe. My husband, Mark, often doesn’t understand how much time I can spend in a market but honestly I just really love it. There are so many different types of food that gives you an endless source of ingredients for new and exciting recipes. Of course they’re not all winners but there’s knowledge in failure too. So if a dish doesn’t turn out the way I want it to I just try again.
Having been cooped up in my apartment for a bit too long I decided to pay a visit to Eataly located on 23rd and Fifth in NYC. Upon entering the store I began to swoon over the beautiful displays of Italian cookies, pastries, cheeses and meats. I took my time and walked slowly through the store while the aromas and sights brought back many memories of my visits to Italy. I chatted with the lovely gentleman making fresh mozzarella as he handed me one that he knew was going to be perfect then I walked over to the woman making fresh pasta and I was immediately struck by the tiny cacio e pepe raviolini that had just been prepared. Hmmm, cacio e pepe stuffed inside of pasta? That sounded delicious and interesting. I decided that had to be dinner that night. A sauce prepared with diced chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, shallots and a touch of cream would be perfect with the cacio pepe pasta. The pepper and cheese would definitely shine through a recipe like this. This would be a perfect dinner: Antipasto platter; fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil; and the cacio pepe pasta. Oh and a big plate of their tomato focaccia to compliment the antipasto and dip into the pasta sauce.
There is something so special about a sparkly holiday table. It just makes you feel festive. Strolling down Fifth Avenue today I decided to pop into Bergdorf Goodman and visit the holiday decor floor. Every year I like to buy one or two ornaments there to add to the tree. This year my friend Jen and I were taken aback by the beautiful glittering table settings they had on display. Imagine being invited to such a gorgeous dinner. I had to share pictures to start putting everyone in the holiday spirit. The trick to a great table is to have objects at different heights in the middle of the table. Decorative objects and candlelight work well. Pick a color scheme and then work within that. Use jewel tones around the holidays to represent the time of year. You do not have to spend a fortune to create a festive look. Try using a luxurious velvet tablecloth in green or blue like this one from Amazon ($18.39) as the base for your holiday decor. Then you can add a charger or beaded placemat and top your dinner plates with a napkin tucked into a napkin ring. A bowl full of ornaments surrounded by candles can work well as a centerpiece. Use my pictures for inspiration and let me know how your table decor turns out. Have fun with it.
I think it’s very important this year to do something to make yourself happy. Bake some Christmas cookies, decorate a gingerbread house, watch a silly holiday movie, buy a poinsettia plant or some pretty Amaryllis flowers to brighten up your home. Whatever it may be, do something to lift your spirits and make this a special time of year. I ordered a fresh garland and a bunch of Amaryllis flowers from Flowerbx. I have used this floral delivery company in the past and have been pleased with the quality and variety of flowers they have. The flowers, garland and wreaths come well packaged in white cardboard boxes so the flowers are ready to be placed in a vase. You can also purchase a vase from them which will be packaged separately. Flowerbx is an online delivery company that delivers the flowers straight from the growers to you. As a result their prices are a bit lower than a traditional florist.The Holiday flowers took a week to be delivered to me but they do offer a wide variety of flowers that can be delivered the next day. Since we are all spending a lot of time at home I recommend creating a cozy winter look in one or two of your rooms. This can be done by switching your regular throw pillows with some that are more wintery, maybe velvet or faux fur? A warm cozy throw will complete the look all winer long. In the Spring you can switch back to your other pillows and the room will look fresh for the next season. I have two sets of pillows for my house, one for the colder months and one set for the Spring/Summer. I always keep my furniture neutral so I can change the look of a room without spending a fortune. I would love to hear what you like to do around the holidays so please email me.
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The night before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to set the table. You will have much too much to do on Thanksgiving to worry about setting the table. Doing it the night before will allow you to make sure it looks great. The most important thing to remember when setting a table is that it is important to have different levels of height, particularly with candlelight. I like to use taper candles or pillar candles and also use lower votives so that the light reflects off of the centerpiece at different angles.
If you are setting a square or round table I like to use one arrangement in the middle and surround the arrangement with candles and other decorative items. Rectangle tables should have two or three arrangements down the middle so it is more linear. The centerpieces can vary in height on a rectangular table if you are using three or more. The goal is for the setting to be interesting and tell a story. Why are we at the dinner? What is the occasion? In my restaurant I believe that people eat with their eyes. It is very important to set the mood for the meal that is about to be served. First pick your color scheme and then decide what you would like to incorporate. Flowers are always nice but also try and use some things that are different like fresh fruit, nuts or herbs. You can also add a little sparkle by using crystal or glass beads. Have fun with it but make sure you remember to save room for the food.
This year I decided to keep my Thanksgiving table very natural. I wanted to bring nature inside. Since we will be hosting a much smaller dinner than in typical years I wanted a more intimate setting. Something that evoked the beauty of close family. Since I live in NYC I wasn’t able to go outside and find branches to use but I was lucky enough to have some sent to me by Wholesale Magnolia in California. I used silver dollar Eucalyptus branches and magnolia branches in my arrangement. Wholesale Magnolia also sells beautiful wreaths and garlands. It is a beautiful way to bring a natural holiday feel into your apartment or house. I surrounded the branches with tiny pumpkins, gourds and pine cones. I chose pillar lighting surrounded by sparkling glass acorns and bronze votives to complete the look of Fall. I placed a small pinecone on each napkin to carry the look across the entire table. You should always place something decorative on each napkin, it can even be a sprig of rosemary.
I love Fall in New York City. One of my favorite things to do is take a long walk through Central Park, around the reservoir and end up on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Central Park is such a beautiful spot in NYC. The juxtaposition of the tall buildings with the greenery of the park is so special to look at. Watching the seasons change in the park is incredible. The view changes according to the time of year but each view is equally as beautiful as the others.
On Sunday I was lucky enough to stroll through the park with my daughter Olivia. The weather was just warm enough and we knew that after the the long walk we would be ready for a delicious brunch before a little midtown shopping. It is so nice to escape the noise of New York and be able to take in a little nature and peace and quiet. The sky was so blue and I just loved the way it reflected off the water of the reservoir.
After our walk, we had brunch at Benoit on 55th Street owned by celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse. Benoit is so beautiful; creamy walls with bright red accents and brass fixtures give an elegant Parisian feel to the dining room. There is also a very nice separate bar area that is currently closed but is definitely worth a visit once it reopens again. The brunch menu at Benoit has a nice variety of brunch and lunch items. I chose the Eggs Norwegian: Poached Eggs with Smoked Salmon and Hollandaise Sauce. I always order the hollandaise on the side so the eggs aren’t soaked in sauce. Olivia ordered Croque Monsieur; open-faced grilled cheese with béchamel. We of course had to have french fries as well. The Croque Monsieur was delicious, the cheese was browned perfectly on top which added the perfect crunch to the creamy béchamel. I love Sunday brunch, it always feels so luxurious to linger over a meal in the middle of the afternoon.
After our delicious, leisurely lunch Olivia and I decided to head over to Zara on 51st and Fifth. We were both in the mood to buy something new. Zara has a great line for Fall. Lots of gray and beige. Beautiful, easy to wear, Fall clothing. Liv was feeling chilly so she decided to check out the hats. She happens to look terrific in hats so it was difficult to choose. Which one do you like better?
They also had some very pretty scarves for the Fall and Winter. My favorite was the blue cashmere or the gray knit. I think either would make a great gift for the Holidays. We left with some bags full of goodies to try on at home since the dressing rooms are currently closed at Zara. They also have a great website to order online. Returns are very easy as well. All in all a great day in NYC.
It is incredible to walk on the beach and watch people surf fish. It requires a lot of patience and skill to catch and reel in a fish while standing in the ocean surf. My daughter Olivia and I took a long walk on the beach yesterday and we were delighted to find some of our familiar friends fishing for bass. When fish is freshly caught a simple recipe works best because it lets the flavor of the the fish shine through. I prefer a whole roasted fish but my family prefers it to be filleted first because they really do not like any bones. I suggest using a good olive oil, mediterranean oregano, fresh lemon, capers and some salt and pepper. Put the fish in a baking dish, add the ingredients and put it in a 375 oven for 8-10 minutes. Thats it! Serve with a simple salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese tossed with some olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and you have a delicious, healthy meal.
I love having friends over for cocktails and serving a little something salty and sweet to nibble on and make you thirsty. At my restaurant we always enjoyed coming up with interesting bar snacks. They are so easy to prepare and way less expensive than buying at a store. Two of my favorite recipes are Wasabi Honey Roasted Peanuts and Candied Walnuts. The nuts are perfect to serve before dinner or at a cocktail party. Make them both a day in advance and store in airtight containers. I recommend putting out the assorted nuts with some candied bacon, dried cranberries and a few beautiful cheeses with crackers. This can be done before friends arrive so you can relax and enjoy.
Wasabi Honey Roasted Peanuts:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 1/2 cups unsalted peanuts
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons wasabi powder
1/4 tsp granulated sea salt
Preheat oven to 325. Place peanuts on a foil lined baking sheet and roast for 5 minutes. Melt butter, honey and soy sauce in a pan and add peanuts. Cook for 5 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Blend wasabi powder, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Put peanuts in a mixing bowl and gradually add the sugar mixture. Stir gently to coat peanut. Place peanuts back on sheet pan and roast for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature before serving. Can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a week.
Peppery Candied Bacon
Thick Cut or Regular Cut Bacon (if you want very crispy)
Light Brown Sugar
Preheat oven to 350. Lay strips of bacon on an oven proof wire rack placed on a foil or payment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle brown sugar over bacon and grind black pepper on top. Place in oven for 20 to 25 minutes until bacon is crispy but not burnt. Let cool on rack and serve immediately. I like to place the bacon standing up in a pretty glass.
Note: Bacon can also be crumbled and used on top of a salad like my Roasted Apple Salad or served over pancakes or french toast.
2 1/2 cups walnut halves
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Place butter and sugar in a pan and melt over medium heat. When sugar and butter liquify add walnuts and stir to coat. Spread walnut out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Work quickly! You will not have more than 30 seconds before sugar starts to harden into candy. Allow to harden. I like to chop the nuts a little before serving so they are a little smaller.