Happy Mother’s day!

My son and I are baking today, and Mom’s favorite are red velvet cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery in New York. I love cooking with my son, and he especially likes to operate the big mixer.

I generally don’t bake, so I follow directions exactly when I do. Magnolia publishes some recipes, so if you like cakes or cupcakes, check out their books. I found the red velvet recipe on epicurious. So if you’re ready to make Mom happy, go there and give it a try.

As for the icing, that recipe looks dangerous — I could definitely screw that up. If you’re inexperienced like me, try Pillsbury’s Purely Simple Buttercream Frosting. You’ll need two packages of it, and I added three teaspoons of vanilla to get something closer to Magnolia’s frosting.

Mom got a preview cupcake today, and she very much approves.


Comfort food: Grilled cheese and Tomato soup

Sometimes you just want something simple, and nothing beats a grilled cheese.

I don’t think I need to teach anyone how to make a grilled cheese, but I will give this advice: buy fresh bread and use real butter to fry it. That’s more important than any specific type of cheese. For cheese, just use what you like. I used sourdough with gouda and havarti.

For the soup, we’re talking fast here: Even with canned tomatoes,  you can still get something much better than canned soup. I found this recipe at Chowhound using San Marzano tomatoes on top of a little little onion and garlic soffritto. Very easy and certainly satisfied a craving.



Sunday gravy: Bolognese

This is a variation based on Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese sauce. Serve with boxed rigatoni or penne.

I make it with a little more tomato than the standard. Try hers first, but this will please a crowd who’s expecting something more like spaghetti and meatballs. Also there’s a secret ingredient: No garlic.

  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 1/2 small, white onion.
  • 3-4 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks celery
  • 3/4 lb. ground beef
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 c milk
  • tiny shaving of nutmeg
  • 1 c white wine
  • 1 20 oz. can of whole, San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 boxes rigatoni
  • freshly grated parmigiano cheese

Start with soffritto: Onions first in the oil and half the butter, then add the celery and carrots.

Add the ground beef and break apart. You can also use a mix of beef and pork. Add salt and pepper. A pinch of salt is about as much as you can grab with a finger and thumb.

Add the milk, let it simmer then add the nutmeg, stir and follow with the wine and simmer that away as well.

Add the tomatoes and break apart with a wooden spoon. (You can chop them before adding if you like.) Let it simmer, slowly, for at least more 3 hours. Add water if it gets dry, but make sure not to serve it with any water left. Add more salt to taste (I suggest tasting on fresh bread throughout the process) and toss with the reserved butter and pasta. Server with plenty of cheese at the table and fresh bread.

If you’re not serving a crowd, make one box of pasta and freeze the remaining sauce for a fast weeknight dinner later on.


Orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe

This my wife’s favorite. If broccoli rabe isn’t available, regular broccoli still tastes good, though you won’t need as much of it. You can also substitute the pasta for bow ties, if you need to. Orecchiette are ‘little ears’ and they hold onto this sauce perfectly.

  • 1 pound of broccoli rabe (rapini)
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 3 Italian sausages (hot or mild)
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 lb orecchiette pasta
  • 1 glass white wine (not too sweet)
  • 1 wedge lemon
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano cheese
  • Salt

Boil enough water to cover the greens, chop them coarsely, and throw them into the boiling water with the a tbs. of salt. I don’t use the stems, but if you like the extra greens, they’re fine to include. Boil about 8 minutes.

While that boils, remove the sausages from the casing and break them up. Heat oil in a large pan and add the sausage. Break it apart if you have big chunks.

Scoop the broccoli out of the water, and throw it into the pan with the sausage. add the chopped garlic and red pepper. Boil the pasta in the in the green water.

Mix up the broccoli and sausage until the leaves begin to turn to sauce. At this time, the pasta will be almost done (about 8 minutes). Scoop the pasta out and throw it in along with half your glass of wine. Add a ladle of the pasta water if it dries out before the pasta is fully cooked. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over it, stir, and remove from heat. I usually add a little sea salt at the end, but taste it first and see if you think it needs it.

Grate the cheese over the pasta after you serve it. Many people like to top it with bread crumbs as well, but I prefer warm French bread on the side.


Comfort food: Arroz con pollo

Chicken and rice is a staple in many cultures. This is a Cuban version.

  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 3 1/2 -4 pounds chicken parts (bones in)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • one packet Goya Sazon (con culantro y achiote)*
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups rice
  • 1/4 cup green olives
  • 1 bottle of beer (light flavor)
  • 4 oz. tomato sauce (1/2 a small can)

First open the beer, and enjoy you won’t need the whole thing.

Season the chicken parts with salt, black pepper, and cumin (you can add a little cayenne if you like), and then brown the chicken in hot oil, they don;t need to be fully cooked. I use a dutch oven, but any big pot will work fine. If you need to, do it in batches and remove the chicken to a plate.

Add chopped onions and then peppers to make a soffritto then add the chopped garlic, and sazon, and stir. Add the rice and stir to coat.


Sazon packets are about a tablespoon of mostly cumin, culantro (similar to ground coriander, if you can’t find it), and annatto (which give the rice it’s color).


Pour in what’s left of your beer and combine with water to total about 1 1/2 cups of liquid. If you finished all your beer, you can use chicken stock. Add tomato sauce and olives. Nestle the chicken parts into the rice and make sure the liquid covers the rice. (Add water if needed.) Throw any juices from the chicken into the pot, too.

Cook on a low simmer for about 30 minutes. The rice will absorb most of the liquid and the chicken should be cooked through. If it gets dry before it’s done, add a little water. Cover and let sit for another 5-10 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Cacio e pepe

“Cheese and pepper.”

That’s pretty much all there is to it. And it’s wonderful. This pasta dish seems simple, but you do need to be careful to get it just right. The easy part is the grocery run:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups Grana Padano cheese
  • 2/3 to 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 tsp. Black pepper
  • 1 lb. pasta: I use bucatini if I can find it, but spaghetti works well.
  • 6 tbsp of butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Measuring grated cheese in a cup is not an exact science, and your tastes may differ as to how much cheese you want to use and the ratio. Same with the pepper: you want to taste the heat, but you can always adjust the amount to your liking.

Grate the cheese and crack the pepper before you get started. It takes a while and you’ll be surprised by the repetitive stress injury you get from your pepper mill.

Grana Padano cheese is important. It melts very differently from the Pecorino. If you like Parmigiano, you can mix some of that into the Grana Padano. The Pecorino will burn if you add it to the hot pan, so don’t mix them together while you’re grating.

Once everything is ready to go, boil the water then add some salt and the pasta. Cook til its almost done, but still has a little crunch in the center when you bite it. A minute or two before the package says it will be al dente.

While that’s cooking, heat a big pan (medium heat) with the butter and a little olive oil. (Oil keeps the butter from burning and browning.) Throw in the pepper and let it fry for a minute or less, then add the pasta, a cup of pasta water, and the Grana Padano.

Toss and cook til the sauce isn’t watery. if gets too thick, you can add more water. remove from heat. Add the Pecorino and a few more grindings of pepper and serve.

Healthy eats: Shrimp and white beans

Looking to eat a little healthier so I tried something that’s at least pitched as being healthy, lemony shrimp with white beans and couscous. The other bonus is that my son, who will eat about 5 different meals, actually likes couscous. He did not taste a bean or shrimp, though.

This was good, use plenty of lemon and garlic, and, as you peel the shrimp, throw them in a bowl and squeeze some lemon over them, which will keep them from tasting fishy. Also, make sure you get wild-caught shrimp, I find that this makes a big difference in flavor. Living in Florida, it’s easy to be picky about seafood.

I added a little extra salt and parsley, and a splash of white wine after the garlic. I didn’t have scallions, so I used a little onion to make the soffritto.