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Monday
Nov152010

Give an Owl a Cupcake (Van Leeuwen and City Cakes)



As Thanksgiving approaches, it has occurred to us, that while many of you may love food, maybe not all of you cook. Or bake. So we are taking it upon ourselves to help you find excellent food (in this case desserts) that other people have made for you.

Now, make no mistake: this is not food that is runner-up to home-cooked/baked fare. In fact, this IS home cooked/baked fare - it's just been done by someone else. And it's better than your grandma makes. Seriously. And I have nothing against your grandma, she's a lovely woman. Tell her I said hi.

First up is Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. You may remember that they've been featured here before. Well, they are back. And for good reason: SEASONAL ICE CREAM FLAVORS. That's right. In this case, the flavors are Pumpkin and Eggnog. These ice creams are just what you would want after your Turkey dinner to go with that Pumpkin Bread Pudding or Apple Pie (recipes forthcoming later this week). And they are mighty nice by themselves too. I should know, as both flavors barely survived this owl-themed photoshoot because I was eating them as I photographed. Not super-productive, but very, very tasty.

The pumpkin flavor, tastes exactly like the filling of the creamiest pumpkin pie, and the eggnog flavor is WAY better than real eggnog. It's got a hint of that nog punch (I think the technical term for this is "nutmeg") and something else (whisky?) whipped into a frenzy of deliciousness. You will want to eat it all the time.



For those of you that want a little cake with your ice cream (and who could blame you?) or just some cake, I have the perfect Thanksgiving cupcake treat: a pumpkin spice cupcake from City Cakes in NYC.



I can't say enough about the moistness of the cake part of this cupcake. I really hate it when I bite into a cupcake and the thing crumbles in my hands. If all I wanted was a vehicle for frosting (and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that) then I would just eat frosting with a spoon. But I want the whole package. I love cake. Good cake. And I love pumpkin flavor. City Cakes puts these two loves together for me in this fabulous little cupcake with a cream cheese frosting that is the perfect complement to the spice of the pumpkin cake.

Evidence that the cake holds together:



When I got the cupcake (OK, I got four) from City Cakes, I thought, hey, I'll just have a bite. Yeah, right. I downed that thing like someone was threatening to take it away from me. And so will your Thanksgiving guests.

So if you're looking for a dessert that will make your guests happy, or at least keep you out of the kitchen so you can referee the shouting matches between Aunt Emily and Aunt Olga at the dinner table, check out Van Leeuwen and City Cakes.

* Both wonderful companies have many, many more flavors than the ones I've spoken about here. So check those out too! Pints of the seasonal ice cream flavors from Van Leeuwen are available only in the trucks. You can find out what part of the city the trucks are zooming around by following them on Twitter.

** You might want to follow City Cakes too while you're at it - they announce flavors and specials via Twitter.
Friday
Nov122010

A Iaciofano Family Thanksgiving



Many of you may be wondering (probably not) what it's like in the Iaciofano family household for Thanksgiving. Well, I'm going to tell you. And I'm going to tell the story with recipes.

First, the cast of characters:

The Box: also known as our dad

Marmo: Mom and executive chef of Thanksgiving

Aunt Emily: a great aunt. She is 96. She is actually not related by blood, but is the wife of my dad's uncle. A few things you should know about Aunt Emily: 1.) She is in perfect health except that she is mostly deaf. So she talks REALLY LOUDLY all the time. And so do we, so she can hear us. 2.) She enjoys calling people "crooks." 3.) See point No.1.

Aunt Olga: Another "great" - Marmo's aunt. She's hovering somewhere around 90, age wise, and is intensely happy all the time. Which provides an interesting (but which I mean alarming) counterpoint to Aunt Emily's canktankerousness.

Elana: Me - sous chef. As sous chef, my responsibilities include burning myself (Thanksgiving tradition) on hot plates, and keeping the Box from eating all the food before it's even served.

John: 'Sup

First, the menu:



Not much has changed over the years at Iaciofano HQ for Turkey Day. It's a small holiday - there aren't very many of us, as both our mom and dad are only children. No cousins! No aunts and uncles - like Wally! It's nuts.

When I was younger and still living at home, the first smell that greeted me as I walked down the stairs from my bedroom in the morning was the smell of onions cooking in butter. That aroma might be one of my favorites. The Macy's Day Parade (this is my favorite balloon) would be on TV, closely monitored by the Box in hopeful, boyish anticipation for Santa's appearance. Marmo would be in the kitchen, like a mad scientist in the lab, with 18 pots on the stove all simmering various wonderful things, including the onions in butter.

Thanksgiving dinner begins around 1-2pm in our house. Why so early? A few reasons:

1. Aunt Emily refuses to eat anything after 5pm. This causes a lot of commotion in my family, in general.

2. Marmo wants to get rid of everyone so we can go do other things. This usually involves either falling asleep on the couch or seeing a movie.

At around 1pm, the Box fetches Aunty Em and brings her back to the homestead. Shouting begins. Marmo retrieves Aunt Olga (the Box categorically refuses to go get her) and what ensues from this point on is something like witnessing the two parts of a manic-depressive episode with Emily voicing the depressive, and Olga the manic.

For example, if you ask Emily how she is, the response is, "Eh, well I'm still here." While if you ask Olga, you will get a bright-eyed (manic gleam in the eye), "I'm grrrreat!" Kind of like Tony the Tiger.

Traditionally, Aunt Emily has always brought over the antipasto.This is an Italian term for a bunch of appetizers, usually consisting of cured meats, cheeses, olives, roasted peppers, and when my Uncle Harry was alive, chopped chicken livers, which even as a little girl, I LOVED. Sometimes there's even some jumbo shrimp cocktail thrown in there. Random, but tasty.

The turkey itself is a HUGE point of contention in our house. My mom and I both like turkey – we actually enjoy the taste of it. Everyone else hates it. And we get a lot of jokes, mostly from the Box about when the Lasagne is going to be served. Or the spaghetti...on and on. Aunt Emily complained so much that she gets her very own dinner – hens! This year we are all tempted to fry a turkey – a feat we have never before attempted. Please warn the fire department, but we do have this, just in case:



Anyway, all safety hazards aside, I've included a few recipes - the ones I think are highlights. I hope you enjoy them, try 'em out, make 'em better, or whatever. Next week we'll have specific turkey instructions along with some fantabulous desserts.

Marmo's Sweet Potatoes With Apples

What You Need:

4 large sweet potatoes

1-2 peeled, cored and sliced apples

Brown sugar (your judgment)

Butter (again with the poor judgment)

Heavy whipping cream (and one more time)

What To Do:

Put your sweet potatoes in a large pot and fill with water to above the level of the taters. Cook on the stove for about 45 minutes until tender. You may need more than 45 minutes - pierce them with a sharp knife to test for tenderness.

Drain the taters and when they cool, peel the skins off.

Coat a large baking dish with butter. Slice the potatoes horizontally (so they are like little orange hockey pucks) and cover the bottom of the dish with about 4-5 slices of potato. Sprinkle a healthy amount of brown sugar and dot with a a healthy amount of butter. Add the apple slices on top of that. Repeat these layers until you reach the top of the baking dish. Add about 3 tablespoons of cream (or your best judgement - you really can't mess this one up).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Try to baste with the juices that settle at the bottom of the dish.

Another hot one is the Cauliflower. The Box claims he doesn't like this, but he usually asks for thirds, sooo....

Gratinée of Cauliflower

What You Need:

6 Tbsp unsalted butter
4 cloves of garlic minced
4 ounces of thinly sliced prosciutto
Florets of 1 large cauliflower cut into ¼ inch slices
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cup heavy cream
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
1 ½ cup grated swiss cheese
½ cup chopped parsley

What To Do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes.  Stir in the prosciutto and cook two more minutes.

Add the cauliflower and cook just until it begins to lose its crispness - about 3 minutes.

Stir in the flour and then the cream. Blend well. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Heat to boiling and remove from heat.

Pour the cauliflower into a baking dish.  Top with cheese and parsley.  Bake until the top is lightly browned and bubbling – about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Cranberry Sauce

*I have to confess to liking the Ocean Spray variety that comes out of the can in one big cylinder that you can slice. But making your own Cranberry Sauce is shockingly easy. Here is how I do it:

What You Need:

12 ounce bag of cranberries

1/2 cup of honey

2-3 T firmly packed brown sugar

2 three inch cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

3/4 cup water

Optional: orange zest

What To Do:

In a saucepan, combine the cranberries, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes or until the cranberries have burst and the mixture is thickened. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and let it cool. Can be made 2 days in advance, covered and chilled.

Cranberry Relish

What You Need:

1 orange – cut into chunks
1 apple – cored and cut into chunks
1 bag of cranberries
1 cup of sugar
Zest of one lemon

What To Do:

Put everything in the food processor and pulse.  Taste for sweetness.  You may need to add a little more sugar.  Enjoy!

As for dessert, the Apple Pie and Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipes are forthcoming. But we have a special presentation of those for you, so you will have to wait until next week.

Thursday
Nov112010

Del(icious) Posto (A review of Del Posto)



Two reviews this week people.  Elana's birthday celebration continues... this time, we loop in Mom and Dad who want to treat Elana for dinner.  Luckily, I get to come as well.

The day starts off a little shaky for me.  I'm still feeling the effects from Friday night's festivities at Luzzo's and Whisky Town.  And it's Sunday.  In addition, it's late in the 4th quarter and the Jets are getting worked by the Lions (the Lions!).  On top of that, I'm receiving frequent phone calls from my parents - "We're near the statue of liberty and should be there soon, are you ready?" "Where are you?" "What is all that noise?"  "You're at the bar!?"

Loving Italian parents will always treat you like you are 5.  The flip side of that coin?  They are treating for tonight's dinner at Del Posto.  Oh, and somehow, Rex, Sanchize and the rest of gang pulled out a miracle in the motor city.  Things are looking good!

Pops picks us up in Hoboken and drives us to the spot.  Del Posto sets a heck of a first impression.  The doors are opened for us, coats are taken, "welcome signor"; the works.  The interior is impressive.  A marbled tile center floor with rich wood floors and panels to the side; soaring ceilings; grand staircases and pianos; the waiters all in jacket and tie.  But any appearance of hoity toity-ness is quickly dismissed by the warmth of the staff.  Very friendly and accommodating.  The way it should be.

The family decides to go for a tasting option which works like this:  Each person gets to pick their own Antipasti and Secondi, and we can order two different Primi's for the four us.

Before our orders, however, Del Posto starts you off with some great "snacks" to get things goin' - extremely thin polenta wafers with salmon spread and fried prosciutto and escarole balls.  Two completely different, yet, wonderful treats.  These don't last long with this crew.  The snacks are accompanied by various assortments of breads, with some sweet butter and lardo to smother on should you so choose.  Both are quite rich (particularly the lardo) moist, and perfectly salted; just a healthy hint. (See top picture for details).

The Antipasti sets the bar even higher.  Elana orders the Roasted Autumn vegetables with Robiola Sformato & Truffled Hazelnuts.  Generously, the birthday girl allows me to sample this.  I'm glad i do.  It is absolutely wonderful.  The truffles and the vegetables form a perfect marriage.  Neither takes over but, together, they are unstoppable.  My Antipasti, the Vongole Marinate with Fried Roman Artichokes & Minted Farro Dressing, is similarly excellent.  The 'choke is flaky and delivers a great salty and natural taste.  But even combined with the clams, it never gets too salty.  Again, simply magnificent.



The two Primi's agreed upon: the Pumpkin Cappellacci with Brown Butter and the Spaghetti with Dungeness Crab, Sliced Jalapeno & Minced Scallion. (Side Note - Dad loved saying "Dungeness Crab" over and over.  Not sure why).  The Cappellacci was superb.  Thin, homemade pasta, injected with pumpkin and sweet potato, served in dried sage and brown butter.  Do I really need to say any more?  I didn't think so.  The Spaghetti, while perhaps a bit more predictable in its taste, is very well made.  The tomatoes and crab made a nice contrast vs. the sweetness (literally and figuratively) of the Cappellacci.



For my Secondi, I order Slow Baked Lamb alla Puttanesca & Garlic Tatsoi.  And the fact that the lamb was slow baked shows - easily the most tender and delicious lamb I've ever had.  The spinach, tomatoes, and garlic load this dish with punch.  Elana gets the Seared Duck Breast, Apician Spices, Savor alla Francescana & Lovage - probably the dish of the night/week/month/year.  It is slightly salty, yet creamy and fatty (thanks to the foie gras).   It took all the reserve I had not to high five my sister after eating this.  What an absolute treat.



Dessert is also tremendous.



And, ah yes... the bathrooms.  I found the bathrooms to be great here.  Granite counter tops, triangular folded toilet paper, and wonderful smelling soaps.  I could have had a cocktail party in here. I mean any time you get your own private bathroom, it's a special thing.  You don't have to make eye contact with strangers or be on your best behavior.  No, sir.  Instead, feel free to take that extra glance in the mirror or contemplate the necessity of that pesky, 2nd button from the top. The world is your oyster.  And, hey, look at the sign!  It's like they knew I was coming in there.



A note about the service: it is perfect.  In addition to being extremely courteous and helpful, they are very knowledgeable.  Each dish comes with a small explanation. Wine orders can be made perfect through the advice of their sommelier.  But there is no arrogance here. It's a pleasurable experience.

So, when all is said and done - Del Posto delivers.  Expensive, yes.  But once in a while, you deserve to spoil yourself.  And this is the place for it.

Movie Equivalent - The Dark Knight
Wednesday
Nov102010

Salty is Sweet!



We have a winner for the Italian herbed salt, and it is: @raelinn_wine! Congrats! I just used this salt on some roasted chicken as a rub, and it turned out quite fantastic, so I'm hoping you'll enjoy it.

Many, many thanks to all the people that signed up to follow us last week. If you haven't done it yet, well - what are you waiting for?

The next giveaway, perhaps? Because there might be one....I'm just saying that I MIGHT have one more teeeeeeeny tiny Italian treat left in my suitcase.

WHO WANTS IT? Tell me what you think it is and why you should have it, and maybe I will! I will also be tweeting hints...
Tuesday
Nov092010

Loving Luzzo's



Just when you thought you were done with Pizza month, we pull you back in.  Due to the plethora of Pizza joints within the area,  Elana and I have agreed to stop this soon and continue at a later date... but there is still work to be done.  This week's review is of Luzzo's, on 211 First Avenue in the East Village.   Since it was Elana's birthday, we invited a whole crew of pizza enthusiasts and made a reservation way in advance.  Our crew had grown to 15 people, and I was skeptical of how they would handle our posse.

Accommodations turned out to be no problemo.  One of the waiters took our crew down a flight of stairs to their basement.  If anyone is thinking about booking a large group for some delicious pizza, ask to be downstairs in the basement.  We basically had the place to ourselves.  It even comes equipped with a stereo system in which the staff at Luzzo's actually encourages you to supply your own music.  Unfortunately, none of us were aware of this ahead of time, so Elana's whack-ass mix of early 90's techno supplied the musical backdrop.  Also in the basement is a bar, stocked with wine and ice cold Peroni, the latter of which was ordered by all the male participants in half hour increments; like clockwork, one of us would twirl our index finger in the air, while our waiter would rifle off bottle caps and dispense the brewskis.  Did I mention how awesome the basement is?

After ordering a few snacks, the pizzas arrive.  Like Keste, Luzzo's is very much a Naples pie; the mozzarella is barely melted, the crust is charred, yet chewy.  It is extremely simple in its look, yet sophisticated in its creation.  Luzzo's gives the option of ordering either 12 inch or 16 inch pies.



For the group, we get a bunch of 16 inch pies; 4 of which are Bufala Mozzarella pies.  This pizza is definitely some of the best we have had.  It is a little thinner than that of other Neapolitan pies,  which isn't good or bad - just figured i'd say so.  Its bufala mozzarella is great; despite its spotty application, it is huge on taste:  milky, salty, and a touch sour.  Perfect.  The tomatoes are of equal quality, extremely fresh with perfect compliments of oil.  Take a look at the oil which swims on top of the slice.  It's there, but not overwhelmingly so.  And the crust is of fine craftmanship - the blackened portions of the crust are contrasted with its doughy, pillowy insides.  Rugged exterior, tender underneath it all.  Alot like myself.



(This picture is from the bar afterwards.  As you can tell, it was fun)

We ordered a few more pies.  One was a white pizza with truffle patte (pictured above). Another was a magherita pizza with prosciutto and arugula.   A third one was a white pie with prosciutto and mushrooms seen below.  All were very good; building on Luzzo's wonderful pizza making philosophy with wonderful pizza making accompaniments/ingredients.



Those looking for a high end Neapolitan pizza will not be disappointed by stopping into Luzzo's.  In comparison with Keste, our other reviewed Neapolitan pie, it is slightly thinner and tad more simple and bare.  Yet in taste, they're in dead heat.  Stay tuned for our pizza rankings in the coming weeks.

Overall Movie Experience - Shawshank Redemption