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Entries in Advice & Tips (103)

Wednesday
Dec282011

A Holiday Cheese Board

Or...um...cheese PEEL, as it were. I was hunting around Marmo's kitchen for a platform for my various fine cheeses purchased at Lucy's Whey at the Chelsea Market. Usually, I place these kinds of things atop my Brooklyn Slate, but not having toted it back to Iaciofano HQ, I was out of luck.

But LO! In the distance, there was a multitude of pizza peels! A Christmas miracle? Nope, just standard operating procedures in Marmo's kitchen. I grabbed one and went to arranging my cheese on it.

Yesterday, we talked about baked ricotta. Today, we are continuing with cheese in the hopes that this might aid you in your search for New Year's Eve/Day party eats.

As mentioned above, I took a stroll to Lucy's Whey in the Chelsea Market. This little nook of a store is a veritable cheese wonderland. I requested of one of the two cheesemongers some help in preparing my holiday cheese plate.

I should note that the other monger was dutifully assembling some kind of fabulous cheese and artichoke aioli sandwich on ciabatta bread. I stared at the sandwiches while I conversed with my helpful monger.

Me (staring at sandwiches): Hi! Would you be so kind as to help me put together a cheese plate for a holiday party? I want three different cheeses....something different, but definitely throw a blue in there.

Monger #1 (nodding in assent and scuttling around the refrigerated case knowingly): Sure.

Monger #2: Do you want a sandwich?

Me (It's 10am and I did have breakfast): No...I mean, yes, I always want a sandwich. But no, thank you.

Monger #1 (Handing me a sliver of a very milky cow/goat cheese blend): Try this!

And so it went on! I tore my eyes and stomach away from the sandwiches and selected three cheeses:

1. A wedge from a soft cow and goat milk blend. Similar to a Mt. Tam in consistency, slightly sweet and not overwhelmingly goaty – it paired well with some Castleton Maple crackers.

2. A beautiful aged cheddar with blue veins. This was sharp, but not powerfully so, with a touch of saltiness to contrast the smooth creaminess of the previous cheese.

3. A blue cheese. I would give this blue a 6 on the stinky scale. Wonderfully speckled with dots of blue, creamy and punchy, I threw this one on some charcoal crackers from The Fine Cheese Co. (incidentally some of my favorite food packaging around). Later on in the evening, I had more blue cheese for dessert paired with this cream sherry (a chocolate covered pretzel like wine and food pairing learned at the Astor Center).

I also threw in some grapes, a tiny canister of chestnut honey, and a sliced baguette.

Leftover cheese? Not a chance.

Friday
Dec232011

Iaciofano Family Christmas 2011 – Prep Time!

It's that time of year again, folks! Time for Santa to squeeze his corpulent figure through tiny crevices for the purpose of Easy Bake Oven delivery. Time for Aunt Emily to drink tumbler after tumbler of gin on the rocks while complaining about John's hair and the lack of grandchildren in the family. Time for The Box to don his baby blue bathrobe and distribute gifts to his 30-something children.

Let me tell you this: a good time will be had by all.

In preparation, Marmo has stocked the fridge with all kinds of edible nonsense. Behold!

I've itemized some of the more exciting residents of the fridge:

1. Grapefruit Juice: for making this drink.

2. Orange Crush: The Box's beverage of choice.

3. Truwhip: The all-natural alternative to CoolWhip.

4. Limoncello: For proper Italian digestion. Make your own like this.

5. A Lot of Seafood: Christmas Eve is all about the seven fishes. I believe Marmo has plans to combine all seven of them into one masterful, magnum opus of a seafood salad. Stand by for that.

6. Tomatoes: And a lot of them. I don't know what these are for specifically, but I'm sure we'll put them to good use.

7. Brussels Sprouts: Roast 'em!

8. A Red Pepper: Roast this too!

In addition to an overflowing refrigerator, Iaciofano HQ is also crammed to the gills with cookies. Marmo has taken to hiding them around the house because both The Box and John will find and eat them all before Santa has a chance to get his white-gloved mitts on them.

In fact, The Box has something to say about MARMO AND THE CASE OF THE HIDDEN CHRISTMAS COOKIES:

As Christmas approaches each year, Marmo devotes her considerable talents to the creation of a range of exceptionally edible Christmas cookies.  She packs these cookies always in a selection of tins intending to preserve them from consumption until the holiday actually arrives.  That is where the fun starts!
 
Just as Sherlock had his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, Marmo is bedeviled by John and The Box who, individually and together, do their best to locate each cookie stash and, of course, to eat all cookies found with no thought of preserving any for the holiday.  An appropriate image for the reader to have in their mind would be of two white sharks  cruising the beach of a fat farm.  In years past, total decimation of the cookie population has occurred well in advance of Christmas causing Marmo to have to engage in a fit of re-baking amidst screams, admonitions (and denials).

Over the years, Marmo has become sneakier and sneakier in her efforts to hide cookies in locations that she hopes are immune from discovery.  Sometimes these efforts work, and sometimes they don’t.

As the score sheet has not been filled in for this year, we bring you some of Marmo’s favorite hideouts.  No doubt, John and The Box will be up to their usual tricks. The Box has threatened to employ Toby in the process...

If you are ever at the Iaciofano house at Christmas time, here is where you can find the cookies:

In the laundry room above the dryer, keeping things like bubble wrap and shoe polish company:

In the bottom most drawer under the "catch-all" shelf in the kitchen:

In the cabinets where the "seasonal" and "random" dinnerware is stored:

 John Chimes in: First let me say... J.....   E..... T.....  S....... JETS JETS JETS!  Christmas could start a bit earlier this year in the Iaciofano household if Rex and Gang Green deliver a Christmas Eve, Revis Island smackdown to the stupid a$$ Giants.   Ironically, the spread of the game (last I checked, the Jets giving two and a half poitns) is the same number value assigned to myself and the Box's over/under for cookie tin's cleaned out during the game.  I devour those Christmas tree shortbreads like it's popcorn.

But aside from the Jets. It is our wish that all readers of this blog - and I suppose non-readers too - have the Merriest of Christmases/Holidays/Festivuses.  And while you cannot physically join us at the table, rest assured that you'll be hearing about all of the food, antics, and Aunt Emily sponsored Italian guilt trips in the days that follow.  Happy Holidays. 

Oh, and for those asking the obvious question - "John, aren't you going post your amazingly creative and hilarious 'Twas the Night Before Christmas poem for all to read?"  Why, yes.  It's right here.  Thank you for the compliments.

 

Tuesday
Dec202011

Survival of the Cheesiest! A Kit from Brooklyn Slate

Today we are featuring a food-oriented gift selection for your holiday present-giving needs: The Cheese Survival Kit from Brooklyn Slate.

This is a new item from Brooklyn Slate, and if you plan on ordering one as a gift, you might want to order two as you will mostly likely want to keep one for yourself.

I was lucky enough to receive one as I took all the photos you see in this post! It was my first real photography job! So I can personally attest to the fabulousness of this kit.

Let me tell you what it includes:

1. A Brooklyn Slate. Use this slate for serving cheese or small finger foods, a hot plate, a chalk board (includes a soap stone pencil for writing!), a backdrop for food photography (I've done this multiple times)...the list goes on. They are pretty sturdy (I've dropped mine a few times and it refuses to break), simple and beautiful.

2. A Cheese Knife: It comes with it's own cover! It's like the Excalibur of cheese knives!

3. Ayers Creek Black Current Jam and California Wild Sage Honey and Castletons Wheat Crackers:

Sometimes it's hard to take photos of food when the subjects are so delicious. I held myself back for the photo shoot, but I am now enjoying both the jam and honey, liberally slathering it on everything that comes within my reach. Including other people.

The jam has lots of current chunks in there, so if you like your jam chunky (I do) this one is for you. The honey is more spreadable than syrupy, which I like as the firmer consistency makes it less messy when applying to cheeses.

4. A Formaticum Cheese Journal: For keeping track of all your cheese purchases and experiences. Hide it under your bed so no one reads your cheesy secrets....

5. Formaticum Cheese Papers: For storing your cheese like a true cheese-monger. Comes complete with stickers so you can label and date your cheese.

6. This handy dandy bag to cart it all around in:

If you'd like to order a Brooklyn Slate Cheese Survival Kit, you can do so through their online shop, here. It's well worth it, and I guarantee it will help you (and your cheese) survive the holidays.

 

Friday
Dec162011

The Italian Sub Series, Part II - Faicco's in the West Village and the Cavone Continuum

For the second installment of the Italian Submarine Series, I'd like to share my recent experience at Faicco's Italian Specialties in the West Village - and - in addition those findings, I urge readers to stay tuned to the second half of my post in which I classify levels of Italian-American self expression on a scale I spent a few days contemplating - "The Cavone Continuum" I call it.

First, official blog business: Faicco's and the sandwich.  Faicco's itself is a neat and tidy, well oiled delicatessen machine with the typical Italian deli characteristics - hanging cheeses, Italian men, and stacked shelves of sauces, pastas, and random goods.  Upon entry, about 20 customers are huddled around placing and waiting for orders, but I was helped rather quickly.  I ordered what is known as the "Italian Special" for $11.00.  Slightly high in cheddar for your typical Italian sub, yet well worth it if it was going to be good.  After all, I usually save the second half for dinner.

The sandwich comes with capicola, sopressata, (home-made) mozzarella, roasted peppers, and oil and vinegar.  And after my man slices the meats, dresses the bread, and presses it all together, it arrives on one of Faicco's steel counters with a dull thud, wrapped tightly in some white packing paper, and coupled with a "s'at all buddy?"  Yes, that is all.  For a brief moment, and prior to exiting the store, I took a violent whiff of the paper covered sub in an attempt to forcefully extract any potentially escapable scents.  No such luck.  I then see-saw both ends of the sub to critique its weight, as if I was in a Peruvian Temple attempting to switch out the sub with a golden idol.  This earned me a curious glance by another customer.  And rightly so.  Shake and sniff all I want, I just needed to tear into this thing already.  I flew home to begin my feast.

And tear into it I did.  And Awesome it was. My previous sub at Lisa's had a slightly dry presence to it - not Faicco's.  This sucker is perfectly - but not overly - lathered in oil and vinegar, which lends itself to some wonderful levels of what I call "togetherness." What I mean by that is the bread, although dense (maybe a touch too dense if I had to make 1 complaint), is fresh, moist, and perfectly dampened (but not diminished) by the dressing, while the meats and cheese, which are generously applied, are proudly featured (not over matched by carbs) in a deliciously stacked pattern of symmetrical glory.  This was a superior sandwich to Lisa's in all respects.  Fine craftsmanship and quality ingredients.  I was happy.  So happy, in fact, that I immediately ate the second half.  And then texted with sis about it.

And even a couple of days post-Faicco's, I found myself re-living my experience.  Using my brain's dvr, I'd literally play, rewind, and play back again my bite for bite relationship with that beautiful sandwich.  And this got me-thinking: what does this actually say about me?  To be clear, it is absolutely appropriate to recall past experiences of culinary glory and excellence - I do this every now and then - but what does it say about me when I'm getting the same quality of goose bumps upon the recollection of thinly cut, stacked sopressata, as I do with a Lamb Parpadelle?  Am I that easy to please?  Surely, Maude in West Virginia probably receives similar levels of retrospective joy from last Friday night's carnage at the Golden Corral.  I began to question the tier of intelligence that governs my palate.  Calm down, I tell myself.  Calm, the F down.  You're not effing Maude.

Thankfully, I eventually realized that I was over reacting; a realization that was supported by two well reasoned, scientific facts: (1) Quality food is not directly related to price and/or a purported sophistication of its ingredients (as in the case of something wonderfully simple, like Pizza) and (2) participating in an Italian-made guilty pleasure is simply inevitable, particularly for an Italian American like myself.

As an Italian American, devilish temptations are all around us:  Do I really need that third cannoli?  Is the most-peal double fisting of an espresso/limoncello really necessary?  It is bad that I just did a double take at my 3rd cousin's ass during the family's most recent Sunday dinner?

Italians are a passionate collection of people.  What separates us as Italian Americans is where our passions lie, and, also, how often we participate in some of the more devilish Italian temptations.  How often do you dance with your inner Italian devil?  A once in a while, harmless tarantella? Or a fist pumping grindfest where you're beating up the beat:

Or perhaps you are somewhere in between.  Depending on your answer to this, you could be a Cavone, or, more likely, you could have some Cavone in you.  What is a Cavone, exactly? Urban Dictionary defines it as: "a term used by Italian Americans to describe someone who is disrespectful, has no class or no couth."  And, while I do essentially agree with this, I respectfully submit that that each of us, as Italians Americans, have at least a little bit of Cavone in us; a barbaric side which yearns for the pursuit of Italian pleasantries and passion fruits.  When harnessed correctly, you can channel your inner Cavone towards respectable realms of greatness with a few harmless detours.  Yet allow your inner Cavone to roam unsupervised, and you may have yourself a Situation.   In my mind, there are varying classifications of a Cavone.  Where do you fit on the Cavone Continuum?

Level 1:  The Classy Cavone

If the Classy Cavone was transported to a street corner in Rome and observed for a few moments by natives, they would not necessarily stick out or be made fun of.  They are typically well educated in some redeeming arena, with a more refined palate.  And, look, I'm not saying these two are the beacon of Italian class - particularly when one of my subjects is donning a sausage link necklace - but they pronounce their words correctly, embrace their Italian-ness without sounding like a gangster, and generally seem like respectable souls.  They have, for the most part, channeled their inner-cavone towards more lofty goals.  Nonetheless, Mario's waistline would indicate he's not scared to give in to some serious cravings every now and then...

Level 2: The Casual Cavone

The Casual Cavone's Italian pride and awareness is managed with simultaneous pride and class, yet they may shamelessly experience a swell of swagger from the following sources: endings of Rocky Movies, Gangster Biographies, and the former supremacy of the Ancient Roman Empire.  A peek into the Casual Cavone's medicine cabinet may raise an eyebrow or two also due to its contents; maybe some hair gel.  Maybe some axe body spray.  This Cavone is equally comfortable in Marinara-Mills as he is within small-plate, Mediterranean spots alike.  DeNiro, I thought, was a fair representation.  There's no doubting the man's level of intelligent artistic expression, but one has to question the frequency and comfort in which DeNiro played a gangster.  Vito Corleone and Jimmy the Gent Conway were fine, but Paul Vitti?  And then Paul Vitti again?

Level 3 - The Considerable Cavone

The easiest way to know if you graduate from a Casual Cavone to a Considerable one?  How do you pronounce your basic Italian foods: Is prosciutto sounding more like "pruh-shoot?" Is gabba-gool said with a straight face? Is Mani Cotti, Monnie Gaht?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you are Considerable Cavone, not to mention objectively embarrassing.  Subjectively, you assume this pronunciation is reflective of "real" or authentic Italian behavior and, it is, for Bada Bing patrons (Soprano), the Real Housevies of New Jersey, and Perillo Tour participants (Romano).  You want a real tour of Italy, check one of these out. 

Level 4 - The Complete Cavone

What more can I say?  When your number one priority is GTL (that is, Gym, Tanning and Laundry for those living in a cave), chances are, you are a total, complete Cavone.  Somewhere along the line, the Complete Cavone stopped maturing (probably around high school).  Same goes for their diet.  Experimentation is bad.  Melted Mozzarella on everything including their toothbrush, good.  Travel habits are often limited to within State boundaries - after all, putting excess miles on that white Escalade is bad for resale value!

Oh, have a sense of humor, offended cavones!  I love all Italians, levels 1 through 4. And to be honest, I'm not quite sure where I land myself. The common bond among all great Italians, regardless of your classification within the Cavone Continuum, is your passion and love for life, family, and friends. 

And if given the chance for a hot date with either Mona Lisa Vito or Giada D?  I might have to think about that one for a bit.

Wednesday
Dec142011

Roasted Tomato Ketchup with a Kick

It's Wednesday. I feel like Wednesday should be a simple day. There's a lot going on midweek. For me, I've already worked through most of my pairs of matching socks and had a break out the Christmas ones.

Yes, I have Christmas socks. Marmo gave them to me. And thank goodness she did, because in my inability to launder fresh ones, I would otherwise be sockless.

And in addition to a dearth of matching "normal" socks, my oven broke. It won't light. My landlady suggested I could light it with a match until the repairman shows up to fix the lighter, but....well, I think we can all agree that's inadvisable for me.

So with all this going on, I am keeping it simple with Christmas socks and toaster ovens. Yes, toaster ovens.

It's come to my attention that there's a Real Housewife with a book coming out on toaster oven cooking.

Did you know you can bake almost anything in a toaster oven that you can in the regular oven? Provided it will fit, of course. I don't watch the Housewives (not that I have a problem with the show, I just can't seem to remember how to turn on my TV when it's on...), but I've always used my toaster for smaller and faster batch baking. It heats up faster because it's smaller and things generally cook more quickly, again because you are dealing with a smaller area to heat.

So this is my first in a series of Toaster Cookery Experiments. They may continue even after my oven is fixed. Who knows? But let us commence with Part the First: Roasted Tomato Ketchup with a Kick.

What You Need:
1 small basket of grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
sea salt, to taste
a few leaves of fresh basil, chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

What You Do:
Heat up your toaster oven to 350 degrees. Line the small baking tray with foil (to eliminate the need for messy clean up).

Put your halved tomatoes in a small bowl and toss them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the sea salt.

Spread the oiled and salted tomato halves on the foil lined baking sheet and bake in the toaster for about 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are browned and wilting like in the above photo.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven and transfer them to a food processor or blender.

Pour in the remaining olive oil (you may not need it all, so you can add half of it at a time). Give it a few blends or whirls and then add in the ground pepper, basil and cayenne.

If the mixture seems too thick, add more olive oil. Give it a taste and if you need to adjust the seasonings, do so at this time.

Store covered in the refrigerator for a week.

Put this stuff on fries, roasted potatoes, spread it on veggies or pitas! It's pretty versatile. John's been using it as hair pomade.

Tune in next time for another installment of Toaster Cookery Experiments...