I, Robot

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity - so crazy I got whiplash from it - literally. Between weddings, showers, birthdays, graduations and holidays, my body finally called it quits and forced me into the horizontal. I threw out my neck, an old soccer injury that likes to revisit me, and was forced to the floor for days. Ice, heat, three massages, two rounds of acupuncture, a decompression brace and a medicine cabinet's worth of (prescribed) pills later and I was boarding a train to Philadelphia for a friends' wedding - super cool neck brace and all. Luckily I was able to remove the brace for the actual wedding - mauve foam is so 2009 - and made it through the weekend thanks to a handful of meds and an even bigger handful of friends.

Now that it's Monday and the neck brace is back on, it's time to hide behind my computer and reflect. I'll work backwards: The wedding was held at The Trust Venue in Old City, Philadelphia. Originally a bank and now an art gallery, most of you will recognize the building as the Real World Philadelphia house from 2004. For the real fans out there, I thought you'd like to know that they actually kept that unisex bathroom in tact - and it's still pretty awesome. As was the food, which was catered by Steven Starr, owner of some of Philly's best and most famous restaurants. We had our choice of food from Buddakan, a trail blazer in Asian Fusion, or Barclay Prime, home of the $100 cheese steak. Naturally I took a picture of the menu, all of which I consumed.

After three hours on the dance floor doing my own awkward version of 'the robot', appetites were satiated thanks to arguably the BEST goody-bag-stand-in to date: soft Philadelphian pretzels and bottles of water to go! I left the candy for the kids.

And a night in Philadelphia isn't complete without a late night trip to Pat's and Gino's (I am a Pat's girl, but Gino's is more fun to take pictures with):
Ah, the wonders of Cheese Whiz:

In juxtaposition to this weekend of debauchery, Mother's Day Weekend was beautiful and calm. I spent it walking, talking and eating with the Woman of Honor and her suitor (Dad). Our menu was simple and fresh: marinated flank steak, grilled then thinly sliced, sauteed mushrooms kissed with marsala wine, a mixed green salad with a homemade Dijon dressing, and baked sweet potatoes which were given a quick char on the grill - simply delicious. Gifts included a Spring bouquet of light pink peonies and an even bigger picture of myself to grace her walls (what?!) The picture was in jest - I was given a poster-sized photograph of myself from a photographer I worked with - and the only person on Earth who could possibly want that is a Mother. Even so, I expect it'll be stored away with all the other non-wall-worthy pictures (Aka, every picture taken between the ages of 11-14. Damn you bangs!)

One gift that did make the cut was actually given to me by my Mother: a recipe box filled with old recipes from my Great Aunt Doris. While I never met my Great Aunt, I feel some kinship having read something as intimate as her recipe box. Hand written notes, magazine clippings, doodles, name's and sketches gave me a small glimpse into her life - and my history. I've always been interested in the historical context that certain ingredients, methods and recipes suggest. For me, the history of a dish goes far beyond the taste and texture.

For most families, food is a source of tradition and familiarity - you can find the same dishes gracing dinner tables from decades past. And many of my childhood memories are linked to my taste buds. Pats of liverwurst from my Grandmother's meat drawer. Tea with milk and honey on sick days with my Mom. My Aunt's famous banana nut bread, which I stash in my freezer for a slice of family anytime. Even family members I never knew have a taste bud dedicated to them: my Great Grandmother's 'quick and easy' appetizer - Ritz crackers topped with chili sauce and bacon. Vanilla ice cream topped with fresh raspberries - my Great Grandfather's summertime specialty.

After combing through dozens of recipes (ten cheese ball variations, two dozen casseroles, chex mix, spaghetti pie and countless recipes that included cream of mushroom soup - God love her),   I've pulled out a few recipes from my Great Aunt's collection to add to my own repertoire - and my history:

Great Aunt Doris' Shrimp de Jonghe
(Shrimp de Jonghe is a casserole of shrimp covered in garlicky, sherry-flavored bread crumbs - give it a try!)
  • 3/4 cup firm butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1t. salt
  • 1 cup lukewarm dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 3/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 2lbs cooked, cleaned shrimp
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  1. Beat butter with an electric mixer until very light, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, salt and sherry, a little at a time.
  3. Add chopped parsley and 1 cup of the breadcrumbs, reserving the 1/2 cup leftover for topping.
  4. Toss cooked shrimp in 1-2T of melted butter and place in a baking dish.
  5. Cover with breadcrumb mixture.
  6. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, top with more bread crumbs, plus some more melted butter.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
 Unless you'd rather try her Arizona Chicken
  • 1 bottle of Wishbone Russian Dressing
  • 1 cup apricot jam
  • 1 envelope Lipton onion soup mix
Mix and pour over raw chicken pieces and bake at 350 for 1.5hrs. Yes, I'm serious.

Back to my brace,
The Heat


Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Mozzarella

I am one step closer to being entirely self sustaining. I bought a make-your-own-beer kit. I learned how to produce my own wine (and sound hip by calling it unfiltered). And now, thanks to a class at Murray's Cheese, I can make my own cheese! Once I learn how to bake bread, I'll consider myself prepared for anything life throws at me. Lock me in a cellar,  drop me off on a deserted island, leave me abandoned in a cabin in the woods - and I will survive! Bread, wine, beer and cheese - my four food groups.

Tuesday night I worked at a Mozzarella Making class at Murray's Cheese. It was a bit like playing with playdough in preschool - except now you're supposed eat what you just played with. I had a thing for Elmer's glue too - I guess you could say I started developing my palate at an early age. As for the cheese making, it was more like cheese molding. We started with cheese curd from Lioni's in New Jersey (New Jersey?!) because it's important for the curd to be fresh, so shipping from Italy is out. The curds were flavorless little lumps that reminded me of firm tofu. We bathed the curds in tepid bath water, stretched them into string cheese, rolled it into a croissant-like shape, and then pushed it through the "OK" sign made with your thumb and index finger, which created a smooth surfaced ball. We dropped the balls in the leftover bath water which we salted generously - and voila! - mozzarella (pronounced 'moo-za-rell' if you're Tony Sixpack from Long Island). I may have said it that way all night.

A young mozzarella maker:

We also did a mozzarella tasting as part of the learning experience. We started off with Lioni's own fresh mozzarella, which was delightfully soft and lightly salted. Mozzarella di Bufala was next, a gamier, sharper version of the prior. I may lose some fans with this admission, but I didn't realize that 'di bufala' actually meant that it was made with buffalo milk. Water buffalo to be exact. Call me ignorant, obtuse or just plain silly - but I never saw water buffalo wandering around the Italian countryside. Well, they do - and do so in a highly irritable, noisy way. They can't regulate their own body temperature, so they wallow in water to stay cool, hence their name. If they get hot, they get cranky and bellow excessively (sort of like me in the subway). They eat a ton, need space to roam and will only produce milk if happy. Huh - I guess I'll have to revise my Christmas list.

Next up was a personal favorite - burrata cheese. Not to point out the obvious, but burrata literally means 'butter' in Italian, which explains my affection for it. Burrata is served as a firm purse of cheese, that when cut into, oozes out dairy gold and stracciatella - wait, what? Basically it's a hallow ball of cheese that's filled with sweet cream and ribbons of fresh curd - Mamma it's good. When packaged it comes with a bright green palm leaf, whose purpose, I learned, is to act as a freshness indicator. If the leaf is brown, the cheese is old - brilliant. As if I need another excuse to eat cheese, our instructor suggested we try it for breakfast, with a touch of honey and freshly cracked pepper. If you're looking for the full experience, try it as an appetizer at Lil Frankie's, where it's served as  a creamier version of a caprese salad, drizzled with balsamic glaze and spicy olive oil. Stracciatella has also become a favorite - spread over a toasted baguette at Frankie's Spuntino with a bottle of their house red - perfection.

We ended our tasting with a smoked mozzarella that was also from Lioni's. Not normally a personal favorite, I was surprised how much I enjoyed theirs. I was told it was due to the smoking of the cheese, with hickory and cherry wood, rather than adding liquid smoke to the curd, a more common practice that adds an unnatural, strong flavor. The smoked mozzarella was complimented with a surprisingly sweet Portuguese tomato jam, a few slices of a delicious wild boar salami and a crisp glass of prosecco.

I still have four balls of mozzarella cheese in my fridge, which I will hopefully stay away from late-night and instead use in this modified version of a caprese salad. Ina Garten roasts her tomatoes before arranging them in the salad - a lovely change to the tried-and-true favorite:

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad: (Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe)
6 servings
  • 12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeded
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 ounces fresh salted mozzarella
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, julienned
  1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
  2. Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. 
  3. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. 
  4. Sprinkle with the garlic, sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. 
  5. Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature.
  6. Cut the mozzarella into slices slightly less than 1/2-inch thick. If the slices of mozzarella are larger than the tomatoes, cut the mozzarella slices in half. Layer the tomatoes alternately with the mozzarella on a platter and scatter the basil on top. 
  7. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
His name is Moo Zarell,

- The Heat