I am the human equivalent of a mutt, with roots in Hawaii, Portugal, Ireland, Liechtenstein, and Spain. Each branch of the family identified itself through its cooking, and with two Portuguese grandfathers, that country's cuisine showed up a lot. Where I grew up in California, in the East Bay, has a huge Portuguese community. Recently, on a FB page celebrating my California hometown of San Lorenzo, there was a big discussion about one of our "local" specialities--vinho d'alhos.
Chicken Savoy is a popular dish at many Italian restaurants in my area. How popular? There are people who call it “the unofficial state dish of New Jersey.” Mamma mia! Take that Italian hot dog! (Don’t know what an Italian hot dog is? I’ll tell you later…)
When you have lemons, make lemonade. When you have beautiful, fresh-off-the-farm, golden yolked eggs with gorgeous, naturally hued, make…rice pudding. The eggs were a gift from my friend and cooking teacher Sue Sell, and they were so pretty that it was difficult to find the resolve to crack them open. (Check out the photo to see how the yolks contributed to the yellow color in the finished dessert...and yes, that is a feather.) But why rice pudding?
Mixing culinary metaphors isn’t really my thing, and I like my cooking straight-up authentic (and tasty). But, last night I applied a Mexican cooking tradition to my Italian pizza. No, I didn’t just add jalapeños.
Enchiladas can be sauced in many different ways—rancheras, molé, suizas, verdes, and more. A dish of enchiladas sauced with two different sauces is called enchiladas divorcadas, or divorced. I couldn’t decide what topping to make for our Friday night pizza, having tomatoes, broccoli, ricotta, and mozzarella at hand, and I didn’t want to do a mash-up. My solution was to make divorced pizza—a white broccoli on one side, and tomato and mozzarella on the other.
Here's another Italian specialty that I've learned to make in the last few years...perhaps proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks. It's meat and cheese pie, an Easter specialty loaded with cold cuts to celebrate the return to eating meat after a Lent-long fast. My version is based on the one from Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook. I spent many hours at Patsy's watching Chef Sal and his crew making their old-school dishes that have made the restaurant famous for over 70 years. My version is actually streamlined, as I used a four-cheese pizza mix and sliced cold cuts instead of the individually prepared ingredients. The dough is easy to make, thanks to instant yeast (you don't have to worry about the water temperature). The pie goes by many names--Pizza Gaina or Pizza Chena (both dialect variations of Pizza Piena, which is Italian for "filled pie") or Pizza Rustica. No matter what you call it, it is delicious. I am always surprised at how easily is comes together.
More than baked ham, more than roast lamb, my must-have Easter dinner tradition is coconut layer cake. Its annual appearance on our holiday table goes back to my childhood. My mom and our neighbor Ardi thought nothing of staying up all night designing 3-D cakes, and Easter always featured a funny bunny with white jelly bean teeth and shredded coconut fur. (Yes, the fur and frosting was often tinted with food coloring.) I'm all-grown up, and now I prefer my coconut cakes for their flavor rather than their cuteness factor. When working on TOMMY BAHAMA'S FLAVORS OF HAWAII, I recreated the piña colada cake that is a favorite at their restaurants. This is a truly fabulous cake, with a white chocolate mousse frosting, tender yellow cake, crushed pineapple, and a generous splash of rum. (If serving to kids, use non-alcoholic rum-flavored beverage syrup.) <Photo by Peden + Monk from FLAVORS OF ALOHA, available only at Tommy Bahama stores, restaurants, and www.tommybahama.com.>
I'm not Italian. Not a drop. But I have worked with some incredible (one might even say iconic) Italian cooks, including Sal Scognomillo at Patsy's Restaurant in New York City (Sal would want me to say, "NOT the pizza place!"), Frankie Avalon, and Carrabba's Restaurants. When I lived near Hoboken, I bought my zeppole at none other than Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop, then, as now, the Cake Boss's place. I have cooked and eaten so many zeppole that I must have achieved Honorary Italian Status by now. Here is my recipe, featured in the new Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook, which is available for preorder at amazon.com, and will be published on March 24...just in time for Italian Easter!
No one has ever accused me of being a sports fan. I'm the guy in the group who could care less about the game on TV, as long as the food is GREAT. Last year, when Super Bowl came around, I was working on Tommy Bahama's FLAVORS OF ALOHA cookbook, and developing recipes from the Pan-Asian repertory. These wings were a huge hit, and now they are my go-to recipe. Korean wings are often deep-fried, but I prefer this baked version, which still yields tender wings with crispy skin (yet without the hassle of hot oil). The Korean chile paste is surprising not incendiary, and gives a nice glow without torching the inside of your mouth. I usually buy it at an Asian grocery store, but I was surprised to see it at my Mom's local Safeway in the California suburbs. And the paste lasts forever! Two words: Make these.
Every year, I bake a collection of holiday cookies, and I love the entire process. If there is one time when I am glad that I got the baking gene (and its inherent organization skills), its at Christmas time. I thought that I would share some of the tips I've learned over the years to apply to your own baking marathon. The cookies above, from top: Gingerbread People (with cinnamon candy buttons); Chocolate Wafers with Candy Cane Crunch; Rainbow Cookies; Pfefferneusse; Sugar Cookies (stars); Peanut Butter Blossoms; Sugar Cookies (trees); Diane's Walnut Thumbprints (Sonia Henies); center, Ginger Molasses Cookies. I will be posting the recipes that aren't linked.
In my career, I have worked with some of the very best bakers in the world, starting in Chocolatier (now Pastry Professional) Magazine, and up through such cookbooks as THE BAKER'S DOZEN COOKBOOK, Rose Levy Beranbaum's CHRISTMAS COOKIES, FROM MY HANDS TO YOURS (with Sarabeth Levine), and THE MODEL BAKERY COOKBOOK. I know cookies. So, when I come across a recipe that makes my mouth water, you can be sure it is a winner. I've just finished baking my Christmas cookies, and I'd like to post some of my favorites. Actually, I have so many special recipes to make them all, so I have had to put them in rotation. One that always makes the list is Italian Rainbow Cookies, one that I learned a long time ago. Outside of its sensational almond flavor and moist texture, these bars keep for a week or so. I usually get about 54 cookies, because they are rich and you don't want them to be too big.