September – It’s Just the Beginning

It’s been a while since I’ve had the mojo to write. When I first told a friend of mine that I wanted to write a blog, he told me the hardest part would be finding topics and the consistency to keep on writing. Well he was right. It’s not as easy as I thought and sometimes I just kept thinking what’s interesting to me might not be interesting to you all. So I took a break. Recently I was around a few of my friends who asked why I hadn’t posted in a long time, so I decided the break was over, and that I’d start writing again. This one will be about “beginnings”, the beginning of writing again, things that inspire me or that have changed me and or led me on a particular path.

Many people see September as just the end of the Summer. Once Labor Day ends, so does summer. It’s funny how it’s almost like a switch flips and the fall mindset starts just at that moment. While I like summer, I have to say I love Fall and for me September is just the beginning. Being outdoors is great, and summer is made for it; however, in my opinion it’s only as long as you are by a pool, a beach or in the shade. I don’t know about you but, if I’m going to sweat there better be some where cool I can jump into, or go under to cool down.

September is also as I’ve said in a blog before, the month of change; and it is the beginning of so many things in my life. I left and started my new career path in the month of September. My birthday and my dad’s is in September so happy birthday to us! This year I was super fortunate to spend my birthday with some of my oldest (not in age haha) and dearest work friends. We spent a long weekend by the beach eating, drinking and laughing. We reminisced and ate more and drank more.

The Jewish New Year is often, as was this year, in September so L’Shana Tovah to all who celebrated.

September is the month where the light gets a bit more golden. The hues are warmer even though the temperature is getting cooler. Mornings are darker and nights are getting shorter. There’s a crispness to the air that I love in September, the breezes are dry and everything just starts to feel more comfortable.

September is the month where we start shifting life a little more back indoors. Kids go back to school, we go back to work. We start using our ovens more and our grills less. Summer meant light, easy recipes, salads, farmer’s market garden vegetables and grilled meats and fish. Now with the onset of fall, foods take on a richer, slightly heavier, earthier tone. As we finish up summer’s bounty, the last of the tomatoes — like in my tomato pie below, and corn or zucchini, we shift towards foods that can be stored in the pantry like potatoes, squash and beans. If we grilled meat, now we are roasting or stewing. Cold soups made from farm fresh veggies or fruits now turn to heartier fare like root vegetables or potatoes and meats. September is also the month where we start to enjoy heartier wines.

My Heirloom Tomato Pie

Summer was all about light and crisp; wines that go with summer’s lighter, crisper foods. It’s when we enjoy rosé and lights whites the most, like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Albariño or even lighter reds like Valpolicella, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir or an easy drinking Tempranillo. Fall is when we start turning our attention to the bolder, earthier reds, Burgundy, Chianti Classico, Barbaresco, Malbec and Cabernet. These are the wines that go with our bolder, earthier more complex and heartier foods.

September is when I embarked on writing my blog. It is the month that I began working as a freelance marketing and sales consultant for the wine industry. And September is now the month that I am starting another new project — working with an amazing Cooking Instructor named Kate Sonders Solomon as her Wine Educator Partner. Together with her cooking classes, I will teach the students how to pair the perfect wines to make the meal complete. She and I have so much ahead of us, the sky’s the limit and it’s super exciting. I did my first class last week where I paired Sherry and a Sherry based cocktail, with a menu of tapas that she had created for her students. It was so much fun and I can’t wait for our next class and any and all that’s to come as we expand, and create together. My professional roots will always be grounded in marketing and I hope to continue to expand that as well, however my passion is in speaking to people and imparting what I know and getting them as excited as I am about wine and food.

Here’s the recipe for my version of a Spanish Negroni:

Ingredients
1 1/2 oz Amontillado Sherry, like the Lustau pictured above
1 oz Campari
1 oz London Dry Gin of choice
1/2 oz sweet Vermouth
few dashes of orange bitters
Orange slices to garnish

Directions
Combine all in a container and if the ingredients aren’t already chilled, chill for about half an hour and then pour over a few ice cubes in a highball glass and garnish with a slice of orange.

Cheers to the changes ahead! Endings can turn into beginnings. Embrace the changes to come with a positive attitude and positive energy; you can do anything! So here’s to September and the beginning, whatever that may be for you and me!

Why is this night different?

This is beginning of the question that the youngest asks on Passover. Why is this night different from all other nights.? It is the start of the traditional “Four Questions” the part of the seder that was looked upon with anticipation and sometimes dread by the children at the table. As we enter into our second Pandemic Passover, this phrase, this question is particularly meaningful and relevant. It’s a year since we entered into the Pandemic Phase of our lives and with that has brought about a new way of living, a different way of living.

As many of you know if you have been following my blog, I lost both of my parents – first my dad 16 years ago, and then my mom just 3 years ago. Most of my family lives in Florida, so first off, this night is different because I will not be spending Passover with any family. Many of us who would normally travel or have a large family gathering, will once again be Zooming, HousePartying, GoogleHangingOut or whatever virtual means we chose to try to bring our loved ones into our lives. Things are getting better but still not safe enough for us all to be close. A dear friend of mine who I’ve known since high school came over for a small dinner, as she too has lost both of her parents and her siblings live far away.

I think this is the holiday that I miss my grandparents the most, especially my paternal grandmother — the one whom I write of often. Passover at her house was always something I looked forward to; it was kind of like a Jewish Thanksgiving Dinner (since she never had a Thanksgiving). The long table was laid out with her finest linens, Passover Plates and flatware, the door was left open so that Elijah could come in — or the cooking fumes could get out, and the table was filled with food. Grandpa would sit at the head and read, and read and read, while grandma would yell — Irving, “genug, enough” and of course he’d ignore her and keep going. We’d dip, we’d sing and we’d “essen fressen” — or eat until we were like a stuffed derma. Speaking of stuffed derma, that was one of the many amazing foods she’d have on the table. This is a Jewish style sausage, no pork of course and stuffed with savory matzo meal and paprika spiced stuffing. We’d congregate in her little kitchen because before the meal started, there would be plates of chopped liver with horseradish that she hand-grated with beets. Sweet and spicy, with the rich chicken livers cooked in schmaltz, (Jewish olive oil) I can still taste it. Organized chaos was really how the meal went, grandma with no patience, grandpa continuously reading, the kids getting stir crazy running in the halls, or getting yelled at to stay away from the windows — “You know could fall out…” We’d be shvitzing as if we were in a Turkish steam bath because of the building’s heat and the fact that grandma was too afraid to open the windows because as I said ” You could fall out.” We’d start off with bowls of steaming chicken soup with matzo balls, and her egg noodles — not the kind you find in the store, but more like ribbons of the thinnest egg crepe you could imagine. Next would be plates of her famous gefilte fish. She’d grind the fish by hand, a combination of “winter carp” pike and whitefish. I have a vague recollection of stories of her keeping the carp in the bathtub though I don’t ever remember seeing it there. I know that this is something that was done, there’s even a children’s story book called “The Carp in the Bathtub”. Can you imagine — you go to the bathroom to do your business and find a fish in a bathtub, Oy Vey! Anyway back to the gefilte fish, she boiled not baked hers and it was always served with a carrot round and loads of more horseradish. Then would come out the platters of meat, usually breast of veal stuffed with schmaltz laden matzo meal stuffing and beef ribs, carrot and prune tzimmes and maybe a boiled potato. Wine is a traditional part of the meal and grandma would only want the sweet stuff — Manischewitz. Once we brought a good bottle of wine and she took one sip, spit it out, said it was sour and asked where the Manischewitz was. This is a traditional Galitizianer, Eastern European style Passover meal.

Flash forward to this year’s Passover and from wine to food, to company, it was different. Before Passover night, I along with Les Dames d’Escoffier, presented a fantastic tasting via Zoom, of the Judean Hills Quartet Wines of Israel. Led by my friend Tali Dalbaha, we tasted four of the most amazing wines along with the winemakers — sorry grandma, this is what Passover Wine should taste like! Different, done by Zoom, not in person, but informative and fantastic.

Next was the actual dinner. So different from what I would normally have eaten, this time I wanted to go Sephardic. Whereas the Ashkenazi are of Eastern European dissent, the Sephardim are mostly from the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African regions. The foods couldn’t be more different! The Eastern European cuisine was based on Polish and German style cooking, heavy, heavy and well nothing light. Sephardic cooking combined the cuisines from the Spanish and the North Africans so it is much more aromatic and spice infused. We didn’t do much else very traditional, no reading from the Haggadah, no Seder plate, no dipping to commemorate the plagues, we just ate. But, to keep some tradition alive, I of course started with a traditional matzo ball soup, because it just wouldn’t be Passover without it! When I make mine, I always start with a whole chicken, carrots, a small amount of parsnip so the broth doesn’t get too sweet, a celery stalk and a few sprigs of parsley and a bay leaf, then I cover the whole thing in chicken stock and water — 2 parts stock to 1 water. To get a nice clear broth, bring to a boil then reduce to a just barely bubbling simmer and skim. The main was a delish recipe by Joan Nathan, and was layers of eggplant covered in caramelized onions and garlic, topped with pieces of browned, chicken coated in allspice, lime powder and tumeric and finally topped with chopped swiss chard. Instead of the traditional tzimmes (sweet carrots and prunes) I made roasted rainbow carrots coated in harissa paste and honey.

Lastly was dessert. Dessert at grandma’s would have been all kinds of sweets from boxes spread all over the table. Don’t get me wrong, I miss the jellied, sugar coated fruit slices that didn’t taste like fruit. There would be chocolate covered jelly rings, or chocolate covered cherries and chocolate covered matzo — don’t knock it until you try it! She’d have an array of Passover cakes which were usually jelly rolls — see a jelly theme here? Nothing home baked so I decided again to break tradition and bake. I found a fantastic recipe for an Orange, Chocolate Flourless cake by Nigella Lawson. What was so interesting about it and different was that you boil the oranges whole until soft and puree them whole with all the rest of the ingredients and bake. Amazingly fragrant, chocolate-orange goodness, you’d never know it doesn’t have flour. I’m sure she didn’t intend it for Passover but it was the perfect cake to end the meal. Oh yeah, wine, forgot wine. As I said no Manishewitz for me thank you, (sorry grandma)! We enjoyed the leftover wines from the Judean Hills Quartet — Sphera Sauvignon Blanc, Castel Rose, Tzora Shoresh Red and Flam Classico.

My Passover night was different from other nights, like my year was different from other years. But isn’t that how it should be? Every day is different, every year is different. We ask ourselves, “Why is this night different from all others?” and the answer is well, because it should be. We need to embrace the new, and not be afraid of the different. Try something new, out of your norm, out of the comfort zone. This past year has taught us that we need to find new ways to forge ahead, to embrace change and not be afraid of following a different path. So Chag Sameach, a Zissen Pesach, Happy Passover embrace your traditions but also don’t be afraid to try something new.

Time Travel

Who is not ready to get out and start traveling? I know I am itching to go somewhere. This is the longest I’ve not been on a plane in I don’t even know how many years. I think about travel, dream about travel almost every day. I miss the craziness of being in an airport, being on a plane, hearing the loudspeaker say, be prepared for take off. I find myself surfing through my favorite country travel sites on Instagram and Facebook or watching travel related cooking shows. I also find myself reminiscing a lot about where I’ve traveled to and with whom. I can’t believe I’m writing that it’s been 3 years since my mom’s passing. Time does travel, sometimes all too fast. I wanted to share a story about a trip she and I took to France many years ago. It was a gift of my dad’s to us, so that we could spend some quality time together in France; a place he and I had spent time in when I was a teenager — that’s for a whole other story! Dad was himself very sick at this time and mom and I were hesitant about going but he insisted and we knew that our going would make him happy. That’s how he was, he never wanted anything big for himself, he got the most pleasure in giving. He knew we needed a break, and for those of you who’ve been through it, being a caretaker is very hard. So mom and I went on our first long mother – daughter trip to Paris, the City of Light, Art, Beauty and Wine & Food!

I set the itinerary and we would hit all the great sites in Paris, go to Versailles and make a special visit to Champagne Pol Roger, since I worked with them for many years while at my previous company. I’m pretty organized with trip itineraries, ask anyone who’s been on one with me and this was no different! I do a lot of research so that a trip comes together seamlessly to make it easy for all. Not having stayed in Paris for eons, I asked a friend for a recommendation for a hotel. I have to admit, I’m pretty picky about my hotels and don’t usually take recommendations for small boutique hotels, but I did this time. Lovely place in the 7th, seriously quaint, but as we all know, quaint doesn’t just mean cute, it also can mean small. And this place sadly was small. A double room as I learned meant just a room for 2, not a room with double beds. This one had one queen size bed in a room where we could pretty much touch the walls. So I freaked out a bit, talked my way out of the reservation and moved us to the Radisson Blu just outside the main part of the city. Now before you scoff at the American hotel chains, remember they are so much more grand when you get out of the US, almost like you’re not in a chain hotel. We were now comfortable, a little remote but it fit the budget and made us happy. Now we were set to conquer the city. I had been to Paris many times so I was super happy to be showing this to mom who had never been. I loved seeing how she loved the city. She was in good form and was able to do a lot of walking thank goodness, since Paris is truly, like New York or London, a walking city, best seen on foot.

Of course we went to the Louvre, Montmatre, Montparnasse etc… and to Versailles. We ate and ate and ate more. Dad allowed me to splurge on some amazing meals and I took her to 2 of my favorite places, one’s I had been to with dad when he was here — Taillavent and La Tour d’Argent. Walking into Taillavent with her was an experience. You stand a litle straighter, immediately feel elegant, and special. The food was extraordinary, the service was beyond reproach, your every wish is anticipated, you never feel surrounded by service, you just enjoy the moment. I also took her to the famous Tour d’Argent for their famed Canard a Presse, their pressed duck. Overlooking the Seine, it’s like you’ve stepped into a museum of food and wine. Their wine collection is fabled, but it’s the duck we were there for! Here’s an image of the famed Presse a Canard, the duck press, I will spare you the details, but you get the idea. If you want to look up how it’s used go ahead, it looks like a medieval torture device, but at the end of the day the duck was incredible.

We sipped coffee at Les Deux Magots, went to Fauchon where I think mom could have moved in, but one of our most memorable meals was at a Moroccan Restaurant called Al Mounia. We wanted to do something that wasn’t heavy french food, we wanted something that Paris was known for and Moroccan food was it. We went in and it felt like you were stepping into Morocco. I can still smell the spices today and remember vividly the Pastilla that we shared. A chicken pie that’s not just a chicken pie but a blend of warm spices enveloping chicken surrounded by a flaky pastry and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Sweet, savory, warm and just oh so amazing. But it was the mint tea at the end, that I can still taste and smell just by remembering. I had never tasted anything like it, mint steeped in sweet water, it was truly delicious.

Other than Versailles, our only other excursion out of the city was to Epernay, for a visit with Christian and Danielle Pol Roger of Champagne Pol Roger. I hadn’t been back to that area of Champagne in many years. When I was in High School I spent a summer in Reims when I worked as a tour guide at Mumm, so I was eager to go back and bring mom. Christian Pol Roger was a gentleman in the truest sense. Elegant yet approachable, just like his Champagne, sums him up perfectly. Christian and his wife Danielle, could not have been more welcoming. Danielle took pride in showing mom her rose garden, where she had recently had a rose named for her. After our tour of the caves, we went back to their house and had a lovely lunch. I can still remember the fish pie she served us, it was the first time I had had one and it was delicious. I think it was accompanied by a Chablis from Moreau. At the end of the visit, Christian presented Mom with a bottle that he autographed and said that she and dad should share it for their upcoming anniversary. I recently heard that Christian passed away, and I can say that this is a loss for the world of wine, and Champagne in particular. At my old company, we had this wonderful winemaker tour called the Grand Tour, Christian was a cornerstone of this group of legends in wine. One day he and Olivier Leflaive turned around and started calling me “La Farine Francine”, which I took as a term of endearment. For those of you who don’t know, it’s also a brand of flour in France.

Anyway back to mom. Here’s a picture of her with Danielle and Christian in Danielle’s garden.

Time travel, time to travel, or time travels. Three years have gone by, so much has changed but the memories remain. We are lucky to be able to travel in time through our memories. Sometimes it’s a picture, a song, a place even a glass of wine, or a food that jogs our memory and allows us to travel back in time. For now I celebrate mom by traveling back in time to remember. I think I’ll open up a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne, toast her and travel a bit more in time.

What’s in Your Pantry?

I’ve been grappling with many topics in my head and trying to decide what to write about next. What came to me this morning was spurred by a column I read in the NY Times Food Section. The creator of From the Pantry, has decided to end the series which was created to help home cooks use what is in their pantries and turn those ingredients into fabulous, tasty meals. The column was created during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic, when ingredients seemed to be scarce due to panic. I applaud her having created this column with its easy, readily accessible ingredients. I don’t want to seem overly critical, but we are still in the middle of a Pandemic and people are still at home and not dining out as much as they could or would pre-pandemic. She says that people are now dining out more — I am paraphrasing, and not in as much of a panic to stock their pantries. Here’s where I differ. And by the way, I will address dining out in another post but, right now I’d like to focus on cooking at home.

Cooking from our Pantries, Freezers, Fridges, what I call #PantryCooking #Freezercooking and #RefrigeratorCooking, is more important now than ever. Parents are stuck at home with their children, who are “going to school” virtually from their homes. Workers are stuck at home because they cannot go back to their offices, which have not yet opened up. From the Pantry’s creator says “cooking 3 meals a day is not as daunting as it once was” well tell that to the parent who has to make breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole family every day, do their own professional job and supervise their child’s schooling. That parent doesn’t have time to shop every day for food. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, my parents always kept a stocked pantry. Maybe they feared armageddon was coming, or it was a cultural thing or just a smart thing, but I too have a stocked pantry and not just out of Pandemic Fear. I don’t want to keep shopping! So I shop in my pantry. I live in the burbs and am lucky to have plenty of space — don’t judge!

As always I like to incorporate some of my recipes and food pictures. One night I looked in the freezer and saw that I had lamb chops so they became the inspiration for a dinner. I looked in the pantry and had some tandoori spices (you can use some cumin and coriander and paprika too) so I rubbed that over the lamb and then pan fried them — simple. I looked in the fridge and saw some carrots so I coated them in cumin and olive oil and roasted them — easy. Next I had some tahini and pine nuts in the pantry, mixed with a bit of lemon juice and put that over the carrots — yum. Finally there was some cauliflower that needed to be cooked so I mixed it with some cheddar and heavy cream and boom an easy gratin. All items were in the fridge and or pantry. Leftovers the next day were reimagined into tacos. I had some tortillas in the fridge, and made taziki sauce with cucumbers and yogurt, and topped all with feta crumbles and olives from the fridge — dinner reimagined.

I mention cooking with beans above and one of my favorite meals is actually made with a can of white beans — a pantry staple. Simple, chop an onion; onions are a pantry staple, cook in some olive oil, add some garlic and tomatoes and a can of white beans. Season with hot red pepper, salt and pepper and basil if you have it, cook for about half an hour until the beans are soft, keep adding olive oil to taste and keep it moist. To accompany the beans, I cooked shrimp that I had in the freezer in a simple lemon and butter sauce with a touch of leftover rose wine and boom you have shrimp scampi. An easy meal made with pantry items. And the next day, I used the leftover beans, added some chicken stock and a handful of spinach from the fridge and had a fantastic soup for lunch.

Soon most will not be able to dine outside; it will be too cold. Our kids will still be home and most of us will still be working remotely so we will have to keep planning 3 meals a day for home consumption. With our lives having shifted home I think it’s more important than ever to find ways to make ourselves comfortable and easy. So many people today are either unemployed or underemployed therefor, helping them find ways to use what they have already is still very relevant. We’ve pivoted inside and have had to adapt. In fact I think that for many, being home is more stressful than before, with more demands, and we must find ways to make our lives easier. So here’s to all the home cooks, I toast you! And remember to look in your pantry, fridge and freezer, there are meals waiting to happen. The meals don’t have to be fancy or made with many ingredients; it just takes time and planning!

Cooking for One Can be Fun

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately. Maybe it’s the slowness of the Summer. You know, those lazy days that kind of fry your brain and turn your thinking to mush. And since I’m not good at art projects, can’t focus enough to decide what to watch on Netflix other than 90-Day Fiancé and all the spin-offs, and have too much attention deficit for puzzles, I’ve turned to what I know, which is cooking. That’s been my creative outlet, and my outlet for all that pent-up energy from being home during this quarantine.

When I worked and lived in the City (New York City) I could barely be bothered cooking. If I wasn’t traveling, then I was out for dinner either for work or with friends. I was probably home 2-3 nights at most a week. If I was home, I usually bought prepared food from one of the great neighborhood places because — and I think I’ve said this before — it was cheaper to do that than buy all the ingredients to cook a meal. I know that sounds crazy but I would wind up throwing out so much because I never knew when I’d be home to use what was in the fridge. Now that we have all been home for months it’s been great watching on social media how many people have learned to love cooking!

So now to the title of my blog today — Cooking for One Can be Fun! Yes it can. How many times have you been told that it’s not enjoyable to cook for one person? How many times have you looked at a recipe and the recipe serves 4 or more? Where are the recipes for one? Why do portions not come in single serving units when you go to the supermarket? Hey, what about us single folks? We are people too, right? So I say yes, cooking for one can be fun. Who better to create something special for than yourself right? You deserve it, I deserve it. And if you make a little extra, well then you have leftovers or something to share with the neighbor. It’s ok! Cook for yourself, indulge, create, enjoy. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just use what you have on hand. Look up recipes, there are so many great apps like the NY Times Cooking app, or Epicurious, or Yummly or my blog FKDecanted. Go to them for inspiration. Go to them for guidance and create. Put good things in your belly, even the simplest meal can be yummy. So many of my friends have been asking me to start compiling the recipes I’ve been making, so going forward I am going to start incorporating recipes into my writing. And folks there will be recipes for 1 serving and sometimes for more! And well, if you want it for more you know what to do — double it, triple it … but let’s start with serving sizes for the single folks out there. Here are a few of my recent favorites that I’ve made for myself.

Ingredients for the Tuna Tartare: One 4-6 oz piece of piece of high quality tuna, cut into small dice. Marinate for about 30 minutes in the following: 4 Tbsp Soy, 1 Tbsp Mirin, 1 Tsp Rice Wine Vinegar, 1 Tsp Swad Ginger Paste, 1 Tsp Ponzu, and wasabi powder to taste.
Ingredients for the Cilantro Guacamole: 1 avocado smashed with a fork so that it’s almost smooth but has a bit of texture. 1 Tbsp Swad Cilantro Chutney, juice of 1 lime and about 1-2 Tbsp fresh cilantro chopped.
Assembly: Take a large pastry cutter, if you have one, or use a tumbler and start layering the guacamole and tuna tartare. If using the pastry cutter, place it on the plate and create your layers directly on your serving plate. If using the tumbler, then make your layers and gently invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with kettle style chips.
To drink: I liked my Hendricks Gin and Tonic but a wine choice should be something with good acid and fruit balance such as a Gruner Veltliner, Vinho Verde, Albarino, Torrontes and of course Sake.

Super fresh and easy, a quick Summer night’s meal made in 1 bowl!
Ingredients: 1 cup of dried egg noodles 1/2 cup spinach, 4 Tbsp Ricotta, 1 lemon zest only, handful of pine nuts.
Directions: Cook the egg noodles in boiling salted water. While that’s cooking, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned in a dry pan on the stove. In a large bowl — even the bowl you’ll eating from if you have a pasta bowl, add the ricotta, spinach a pinch of salt and pepper and mix together. Add the drained noodles directly into the bowl, the heat will wilt the spinach and top with the pine nuts and lemon zest. Season again a bit more. Even drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top for a bit more texture. Serve immediately.
To Drink: I’d love an Orvieto or a good Pinot Grigio or even a glass of Falanghina. Acidity, floral and bright, these types of wines will go great with the freshness and creaminess of this dish.

Here’s a light summer lunch — simple in-season ingredients from the garden and farm.
Ingredients: 1 ripe tomato, 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, 1 garlic clove minced, 2 Tbsp chopped basil, 1 Tsp chopped fresh oregano, salt and pepper to season, extra virgin olive oil to drizzle.
Directions: Take the top off the tomato, and remove the pulp and seeds — save the pulp, drain the liquid. Drizzle tomato with olive oil, rub inside with salt and pepper set oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees. In a bowl mix the ricotta, parmigano, garlic, basil, oregano and the tomato pulp. Stuff the tomato with the ricotta mixture, and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast the stuffed tomato in the oven until it’s soft, but still holds it’s texture — too mushy and it will fall apart, you want to be able to cut into it. This might take about 20 minutes — but check!
To Drink: A light Pinot Grigio or even a Gavi would be a fantastic white pairing but you could also go red with a glass of Barbera or Dolcetto or even a Pinot Noir from Oregon — I’d serve them slightly chilled.

All of these meals are really simple and easy so why not go ahead and cook for yourself. And feel free to edit, tweak, modify, whatever makes you happy! Just get creative and get cooking. Like I said, you deserve it. Seasonal ingredients make your life simpler as does a well-stocked pantry. Also look at some of the on-line sites like Penzeys, or Kalustyans, or my favorite Spice Mountain from the UK, for cool international spices, rubs and chutneys. Open a nice bottle of wine — so many now come with screw caps so you can have a glass and put it back in the fridge. Or invest in a wine preservation system like the Coravin. Go ahead make a cocktail I won’t judge I would probably join you! Cooking for One Can be and SHOULD BE Fun!

Cooking for Comfort, Cooking for Joy

Sometimes you just need things that feel comfortable. Comfort comes in many forms.  Comfort can be your favorite sweater or a warm blanket.  It can be a song that makes you think of something happy, or it can be a meal that evokes a memory.  From the beginning of the pandemic I’ve been wearing comfortable elastic waisted pants and polartec fleece; now that it’s warm I only shed the fleece. In fact with all the cooking I’ve been doing I’m not sure I actually fit into my jeans — ok yes I do and for those of you concerned I’m working out at home.  I found not only comfort but also joy in cooking during these trying times.  Cooking became an outlet for me, a way to get my energy out, and do something creative.  I looked forward to the end of the day when I would peek inside my fridge, freezer and pantry and see what yummy meal I could whip up.  And since I can’t paint, I can’t draw, don’t have the patience to knit and with lots of animals around doing a puzzle just wasn’t an option, I decided that cooking would be my creative outlet.  It didn’t matter if I had fancy ingredients or the most basic, it was all about the creating. 

I would put my chef head on after a long day at the computer and look in the fridge and freezer and plan my next episode of Chopped, the Homecook edition. Now that I live in the burbs and not a tiny apartment in the sky, I am lucky enough to have a pantry!  And I think it’s in my DNA to keep it all well stocked.  My parents were always of the “You Never Know” philosophy so we always had a full fridge, freezer and pantry. And that way of thinking was most probably handed down from my dad’s mom, the grandmother I’m always referring to in my stories. Grandma was from that generation of immigrant Jews that believed that if you had food on your table all was good in the world, it was a sign for them that they “had,” even if they didn’t.  Grandma always had a full table no matter how little money she had or what the circumstances were in life. This type of thinking was handed down to my dad who lived by the same credo and he handed that down to me. My fridge and freezer are full and so is my pantry so I’ve been doing a lot of what I call #pantrycooking and #freezercooking.

When I lived in the city and had a job where I traveled a lot, I didn’t cook very much. I used to tell people that it was more expensive and wasteful to cook than buy ready-made or get delivery. Often I’d either be out for dinner for work or traveling, and most of the bought ingredients would go to waste. Now being home, I am very mindful about what’s in the fridge, freezer and pantry and am trying not to let things go to waste. This has been a good lesson, and has encouraged me to let my creative juices flow and turn these items into meals.  Both the cooking and planning brought me joy.  Each night, I think about what protein I might take out of the freezer and then think about what’s in the fridge and pantry and what I can then create. 

There is something very soothing about cooking, there’s a rhythm, a cadence that when you get into it can be very comforting. Yes of course there can be chaos too but I find the whole process very soothing even the chaos. When you find that right rhythm, have your timing down and all things flow, it’s kind of like a symphony.  When it all comes together and the meal is created, now that brings me joy. Sharing a meal, cooking it, creating the menu this all brings me joy. But what brings me the most joy is the look on my friends’ faces as they partake in what I’ve made for them — comfort and joy for me.

My inspiration today comes from all the fabulous foods I’ve seen or tasted from all the amazing places I’ve been. At times I felt like I was taking a trip through my meals — a Spanish inspired or Italian inspired dish made me feel like I was somewhere else.  If I felt a little exotic I’d make an Indian or Thai inspired meal; or if I felt like I needed something more “homey” maybe I’d make a stew or pot pie.  I love cookbooks, websites and cooking magazines and cooking shows and am constantly looking at them all for more inspiration. I have boxes of index cards from my parents along with memories of my grandmother’s cooking and I’ll take these ideas and transform them based on what’s in my fridge, pantry and freezer.  It’s hard to cook meals for yourself, most recipes are for at least 2 and usually more so you have to be very mindful about how to adapt to solo meals. Occasionally I’d make a large batch of something and I’d either freeze the extras or share with my neighbors. My former neighbor in the city used to be the recipient of extras, and she has told me on more than one occasion that she is envious of the fact that I am now sharing with others.

I’ve been drawn to making what might be considered comfort foods. Yes I know my pictures make them look fancy, I love photographing food; I think ingredients either raw or cooked are beautiful.  But in fact, most items are really non-fancy, pantry, fridge and freezer ingredients that can be put together fairly quickly, without too much fuss and with ingredients that are not too expensive. A key is to make sure that you have lots of different spices and dried herbs in your pantry.  Another key is to have lots of cans of beans, tomatoes as well as dried pastas and rices as well as stocks. 

One of my favorite comfort dishes that I recently made was my mom’s lasagna. I remember her making this rich Northern Italian recipe that would take hours to prepare. I used to love watching as she’d make each part of the lasagna, browning the sausage; cooking each noodle with care so that it wouldn’t break; making the bechamel and the red sauce; mixing and flavoring the ricotta and finally layering and assembling with loads of mozzarella. I basically followed her recipe but of course put my own twist on it to cut down on the cooking time — I used no cook lasagna noodles, and enhanced a fantastic jarred tomato sauce with some extra goodness. I had all the ingredients on hand so it was easy to make and the end result was an ooey gooey rich lasagna that I shared with my neighbors and also froze for later meals — pantry cooking and freezer cooking at its finest. Here’s the original index card from mom in her handwriting and original cooking splatters — along with a picture of my creation.

I’ve been posting my cooking to my instagram and facebook pages and who knows maybe one day I will put them all together along with the recipes into a book. Posting them and sharing them has been my way to connect with people and bring joy to those who liked seeing my creations. In these days of self isolation, we all needed ways to bring comfort and joy to ourselves.  My way was to share my creations; it was a way of reaching out with something that gave me joy and hope that it might put a smile on the face of others.  So I will leave you with a few of my favorites from our quarantine time.  All the ingredients came from either my fridge or freezer, peppered with what’s in the pantry and now my garden.  I hope they inspire you to look in your fridge, freezer and pantry and create meals that bring you comfort and joy.