Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce

I found this simple recipe in the New York Times Cooking section about 6 months ago and have been using it ever since.  It’s simple - only a handful of ingredients, and it’s versatile - I use it as a pizza sauce, pasta sauce, eggplant Parmesan and the list goes on.   The best part is it only takes 30 minutes or less to make.  The most important thing about this recipe is to use certified canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy.  If you’re on the lookout, it’s pretty easy to spot these beauties at your local grocery store which should carry a few certified brands.  If you have access to an Italian grocery store, even better because they carry a variety of brands and price points.


San Marzano tomatoes are grown just south of Naples in volcanic soil courtesy of Mount Vesuvius.  They have a distinct flavor that is hard to find anywhere else – the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness.  When I made a pizza with canned sauce (Oh...My...God!) my kids complained that their mama’s homemade pizza didn’t taste right.  They were used to the glory that is San Marzano tomatoes, so of course I can’t take shortcuts ever again…

The original recipe calls for 7 cloves of sliced garlic.  While I do enjoy garlic, I think that’s a bit much.  I use about 3 cloves sliced and then remove them when the sauce is done but that’s just my personal preference.  I love that you use your clean hands to crush the tomatoes and when you add them to the olive oil and sizzling garlic it looks like velvet. 


1 28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes, D.O.P certified if possible
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 large fresh basil sprig, or ¼ teaspoon of dried oregano

1.)    Pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands. Pour 1 cup water into can and slosh it around to get tomato juices. Reserve.

2.)   In a large skillet (do not use a deep pot) over medium heat, heat the oil. When it is hot, add garlic.

3.)   As soon as garlic is sizzling (do not let it brown), add the tomatoes, then the reserved tomato water. Add red pepper flakes, oregano (if using) and salt. Stir.

4.)   Place basil sprig, including stem, on the surface. Let it wilt, then submerge in sauce. Simmer sauce until thickened and oil on surface is a deep orange, about 15 minutes. (If using oregano, taste sauce after 10 minutes of simmering, adding more salt and oregano as needed.) Discard basil.


"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Roman Poet Virgil

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Over Thanksgiving, I went to Italy for the first time.  This is something I’ve wanted to do for so long I was thrilled beyond belief to do so.  Now, all I want to do is plan our next trip to Italy.  In fact, I want all my vacations for the rest of my life to be in Italy.

It was better than I could have imagined.  We planned only a couple of guided tours in Rome, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, and left the rest of the time for us to wander about on our own in the beautiful city that truly is Eternal.  In Florence we visited five museums in two days, but still had time to explore the amazing street life in this magnificent Renaissance city.

Oh, and the food.  Obviously, it was something I was really looking forward to.  I’ve been cooking most of my life and when I entertain, the only thing I can really cook is Italian.  Over the years I’ve made home-made gnocchi and ravioli but upon returning from Italy we dug out the pasta maker and made fettuccine a few times just to bring us back to vacation mode.  One of the things that had a huge impact on me was the fresh marinara sauce.  Made with just a handful of ingredients and cooked for only 30 – 45 minutes.  It tastes so fresh.  Of course you need to use quality ingredients for this to happen, but once you do, it will be your go to sauce and you’ll never look back.  I will share this recipe in a separate post.  Here I want to show some of my favorite foods from our trip because it really is all about the food, right?

This was one of my favorite pastas.  It's called cacio e pepe (cheese & pepper) and is a mainstay in Roman restaurants.  So simple but delicious.  It doesn't usually have the basil on top, but I added it since my son didn't want it on his pizza.   I had this at Il Passetto in Rome.

Prosciutteria Coronari - wine bar in Rome

Next on my list of favorites was this homemade pasta with pomodoro fresco - fresh tomato sauce. I had it in a restaurant in Florence near the Duomo.  It tastes as good as it looks.  So fresh.

While in Florence, we stumbled upon Mercato Centrale - an Italian food court with a cheese monger, craft beer, wine, salumi, pizza, gelato, fresh-made pasta and chocolate.  I think this is where we had the best pizza the entire trip which is the reason there is no photo.  We were too busy eating it.  We did have Florentine steak here.  

My absolute favorite meal was on Thanksgiving day.  We arrived mid-afternoon in Riomaggiore which is the first of 5 small villages in the Italian Riviera called Cinque Terre.   Not only was it a beautiful sunny day, the views from our apartment and restaurant below were breathtaking.  The best food we had was here at Dau Cila Ristorante.  Fresh-made pasta with pesto, anchovies and fish caught just steps away and the best wine made right in Riomaggiore from a small vineyard.

The gelato was pretty consistent throughout Italy.  Our favorite was Vivoli in Florence, but Rome has some great ones too.  My favorite was the mocha mousse from Vivoli in Florence.

Mocha Mousse on the far right...heavenly.

a beautiful site along side the gelato

me and my boys eating gelato in Rome
Fruit & Vegetable stand in Florence

My son Joey's rum-soaked chocolate cake
pretty cake at the Uffizi Gallery


Espresso in Rome

wine bar in Florence

This is only a fraction of the photos I have.  If you've ever wanted to go to Italy, don't delay.  You will wonder why you waited so long.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Feel a Little Better Chocolate Chip Cookies

I pack my oldest son's lunch everyday because he's a picky eater and won't eat school food.  My younger son eats school lunch a few times a week depending on what's being served, so I pack his lunch on Fajita Rice Bowl and Pizza Dipper days.  

For a lunch treat I was buying organic cookies.  I've also tried WhoNu?, the cookies that look and taste exactly like Oreos and Chips Ahoy, but claim to be "nutrition-rich" compared to other leading brands and are made without high-fructose corn syrup.  I've been growing a little weary of them because they are, after all, still processed, packaged cookies even if they are as nutrient dense as they claim to be.  This prompted me to start baking my own cookies to pack in their lunches so I can feel a little better about their treat situation. 

I altered the standard Toll House cookie recipe by cutting down on the sugar, replacing half of the white flour with rolled oats, adding ground flax and chia seeds, ground ginger and orange zest.  They are delicious. Both my boys love them - especially the super, ultra, mega picky one.  And, yes, they are still full of butter and chocolate chips - so who wouldn't love them, right?  

Lately I've been loving these chocolate chips, not only because of the beautiful red packaging but because they are 63% cocao

I keep the cookies in the freezer and pack them frozen so they have all morning to leisurely defrost.  Also, by keeping them in the freezer, there is a slightly less chance that I will eat them on a regular basis.  I hope you like!

Feel a Little Better Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 & 1/3 cups of unbleached, all purpose flour
1 & 1/2 cups of old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup ground golden flax seeds
2 Tablespoons chia seeds
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 2 large eggs
zest of one orange
1 12 oz package dark chocolate chips
chopped walnuts (optional)

1.)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2.)  Combine flour, oats, flax, chia, baking soda, salt and ground ginger in small bowl.
3.)  Beat butter, sugars, vanilla and orange zest in a large bowl until creamy.
4.)  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5.)  Gradually beat in flour mixture.
6.) Stir in chocolate chips (and nuts if using)
7.)  Form dough into teaspoon size balls and bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Cookies freeze well.  Enjoy!

"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Roman Poet Virgil

"Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food." - Hippocrates

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rosemary Shortbread

I found this simple shortbread cookie recipe in the Chicago Tribune last year around the holiday season, and it has quickly become one of my family's favorites.  I slightly tweaked the recipe (I added a touch of vanilla and a dusting of pink salt crystals on top) and I'm very happy with the outcome.  The vanilla gives it a more balanced flavor and I love the subtle touch of color and taste from the salt.  Cornmeal may seem like an odd ingredient for a cookie, but it gives this shortbread a crunchy, gritty, yet pleasing texture.  The fresh rosemary adds a savory taste and aroma that works magic into this cookie.

I'm not a fan of sweet, gooey cookies and tend to favor those that go well with a hot cup of coffee.   Almost all of my cookie recipes are low in sugar, but over the top with flavor.  But I have to warn you, it is nearly impossible to eat just one of these cookies, but I wish you luck in trying.

Rosemary shortbread

2 cups flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Himalayan pink salt crystals (or coarse sea salt)

1.  In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal and salt.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, beat together butter and sugar. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla, then rosemary. Add dry ingredients and mix just until dough holds together.

3.  Roll dough into 2 logs, each about 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Wrap with cling and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

4. Slice logs into 1/4-inch thick disks. Settle shortbread disks on parchment-lined baking sheets; sprinkle and press a small amount of the coarse salt into the cookie. Slide into a 350-degree oven, and bake until golden at the edges, about 11 - 12 minutes.

Cool and Enjoy!

 "The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Virgil
"Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food." - Hippocrates

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chocolate - Cardamom Cake

When my husband and I were recently out for dinner, we shared a mini chocolate cake with Turkish coffee ice cream for dessert.  It took a moment or two for us to realize the cake was infused with cardamom.  Interesting.  I had often paired cinnamon and ginger with chocolate, but had never thought about cardamom.  I've had other sweet treats with cardamom before -mostly from a local Scandinavian bakery and I've made a panna cotta with this warm spice, so naturally I had to recreate this lovely chocolate cake at home.

Cardamom is a peppery, citrusy spice, common in Indian food and is a close relative to cinnamon and ginger; and like these spices, it's loaded with health benefits.  Just to name a few, it's an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, aids digestion and detoxification, and if it couldn't get any better, it's also an aphrodisiac.

I loosely based this recipe on my recently posted Nigella's chocolate olive oil cake.  I cut the sugar in half and made a few other adjustments that my taste testing family approved of.  With the warmth of the cardamom, this cake will make a  wonderful accompaniment to the pumpkin pies on your Thanksgiving dessert table.

Chocolate-Cardamom Cake

6 Tablespoons good quality cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1/2 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1 cup ground almonds or almond flour/almond meal
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup sugar (I use evaporated cane juice which is an unrefined, unbleached sugar)
4 eggs
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for greasing pan)
powdered sugar for dusting

1.) Heat oven to (325 F). Grease a  (9-inch) spring form pan with a little oil and line base with parchment paper cut out in a circle to fit.

2). Measure and sift cocoa powder and espresso powder into a bowl and whisk in boiling water until you have a smooth, chocolaty, still runny (but only just) paste. Whisk in vanilla, then set aside to cool a little.

3.) In another small bowl, combine almond meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom.  Set aside.

4.) Put sugar, olive oil and eggs into bowl of a freestanding mixer with the paddle attachment (or other bowl and hand mixer) and beat together vigorously for about 3 minutes until you have a pale-primrose, aerated and thickened cream.

5.) Turn speed down a little and pour in cocoa mixture, beating as you go, and when all is scraped in, you can slowly tip in almond meal/flour mixture.

6.) Scrape down, and stir a little with a spatula, then pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 25 - 30  minutes or until the center puffs up and a toothpick comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it.  Do not over bake, it can dry out quickly.

7.) Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack still in its pan, and then ease sides of the cake with a butter knife and spring it out of the pan.  Leave to cool completely or eat while still warm.  Dust with powdered sugar and/or serve with whipped cream.
Makes 8 to 12 slices.  


"The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Virgil

"Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food." - Hippocrates

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charlie Trotter 1959-2013

Today Charlie Trotter's body was laid to rest.  When I heard the news last week of his unexpected passing, I was shocked and saddened.  While I didn't know him personally, I was fortunate enough to eat at his ground-breaking restaurant twice.  Once in 1989, just two years after he opened his famed name-sake, and again in 2001; this time working an event for a friend.  The second visit was unique because not only did I have the meal in his studio kitchen, I actually got paid to eat this amazing food.   

Charlie Trotter, considered one of the finest chefs in the world, changed the fine dining scene in Chicago, helping the city become the food capital it is today.  So many current Chicago (and beyond) chefs have learned so much from this talented, culinary master.  Trotter closed his 60-seat restaurant in August 2012 after 25 incredible years.

Click Here  to read a Chicago Tribune article about the memorial service.

My "take-away" from this intensely, creative chef fits the "youthful eating" philosophy I try to incorporate into my everyday life:

1.)  Trotter strived for excellence, not perfection.  Excellence allows for the human element which will never be perfect.

2.)  Even in his early days, Trotter veered away from cream and butter in favor of vegetable based sauces that didn't mask the flavor of the food as heavier sauces would have.  He also stopped serving foie gras long before Chicago's temporary ban of the luscious fat duck livers, because of the in-humane way it is made.

3.) Trotter did not serve hard alcohol in his restaurant.  He felt that too much alcohol interfered with the appreciation of food.  Wine was served with every course, and champagne to begin, but no hard alcohol.

4.)  While Trotter was known for his degustation menu, 12 courses in one sitting, his portions were small.  This allowed guests to enjoy multiple courses without feeling as if they were in a food coma at the end of the meal.  He wanted people to be energized from his food, not lethargic.

RIP Chef.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Lemon-Lavender Olive Oil Cake

I love using fresh herbs to cook with, but I especially love using them in baked goods because they're unexpected and deliver amazing flavor. Fresh rosemary and thyme are my favorites for cookies and cakes. 


This past weekend I did some baking for my niece's college graduation party and decided to try a new recipe.  Ever since I made Nigella's chocolate olive oil cake, I've been wanting to try a lemon version of it and I've noticed dried lavender paired with lemon before, so I knew it'd be the perfect addition to this cake, and it was.  I will definitely be making this one again. 

The single-layer cake tasted like something I would imagine is served during Afternoon Tea at the Plaza Hotel. If I had a daughter, she would be serving this to her dolls with a miniature tea set.  It's very light with a subtle lemon-lavender flavor that isn't too floral or too sweet.  Just lovely.

If you don't grow and dry your own lavender, you can find dried lavender in the spice section of your grocery store.  Target's Archer Farms brand is actually pretty good (and the one that I use).  Although I used mostly almond flour with a small amount of all-purpose flour, you could use all almond or all regular flour.  If you can't find almond flour, you can make it by grounding raw almonds in a food processor.  Really, any flour will work in this simple, easy recipe.


Lemon-Lavender Olive Oil Cake
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup natural cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 Tablespoon dried lavender
  • powdered sugar to dust top of cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch spring form pan with olive oil.  Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and trim it so it lays flat.          
  2. With the whisk attachment of an electric mixer or an electric hand-mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until they are light, fluffy and pale yellow - about 2-3 minutes.               
  3. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and vanilla extract. Beat well.
  4. Add the almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda               
  5. Mix just until combined and then add the dried lavender.
  6.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top no longer feels jiggly to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with crumbs attached. The top of the cake will be quite dark.
  7.  When the cake is cool, remove the outside of the spring form pan. Just before serving, sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar shaken through a small sieve or tea strainer.                                                

 "The Greatest Wealth is Health" - Roman Poet Virgil

"Let Food be thy Medicine and Medicine be thy Food." - Hippocrates