Thursday, November 30, 2006

This is a wedding blog, right?

(**Note: those people who are "carrying the chuppah" - this is the same thing as "standing up". )

Everybody has been asking for wedding details. There's not too much that I haven't said already... but it's scattered throughout this blog. I'll summarize what we have decided so far. Feel free to ask questions.

Also...I sooooo got a wedding dress while I was in Arizona : ) But I can't talk about it here, because Greg checks this blog.

Important Dates

Villa in Italy rented for: May 19-26th (Saturday to Saturday)
Wedding Day: likely May 23rd
Reception Date: set at Sept 1st

The Villa

You can find a description of the villa here

We will be grouping people as follows:

Linda/Rob + Nancy/Paul
Nancy/Jim + Jen/Pete + Grandma
Rachael/Greg + Jessica/John + Michael/Leslie + Andy/Leslie + Bryan

There is a fourth building available to rent with two bedrooms and a third large open space that someone could sleep in. It runs about $900 for the week, which is cheaper than any hotel (in case other relatives are interested in attending).

There are kitchen's in the main building where Greg and I are at and in the building where Nancy and Jim are at. The Linda/Rob + Nancy/Paul building does not have a kitchen. There is a pool. There are large outdoor grounds. The weather should be gorgeous, as described here

The villa is 3 miles outside of historic rome and very close to public transportation. I encourage you not to rent a car unless you plan on travelling extensively outside of Rome. I'll be assembling a packet for everybody describing how to use the public transit system (it's of course very good)

At some future point I will post about various attractions. Here's what I've heard so far. Venice is incredible and a must-see. Florence is good for art, but not as interesting as some of the other places you can go (unless you're really really into the art). I've heard the amalfi coast is some of the best siteseeing, and coming from a friend that studied abroad and spent time there, that the little towns will probably hold a lot more interest than the super touristy areas. But that's all just opinion. As far as cuisine goes, think lighter/fresher along the coastline and more "traditional" (i.e., closer to what we americans call italian food) further inland.

The wedding party

Andy and Leslie + Jen and Pete will bring out the Chuppah, to be replaced by the parents (and in case you've never been to a Jewish wedding, this is a Chuppah). Bryan is the Best Man. Jessica is the Matron of Honor. Michael will be standing up on Greg's side.

The day before the wedding (Tuesday): We'll all go wine tasting to pick out a wine for the reception dinner in Rome

The day of the wedding (Wednesday): In the morning, I'll go with other people to pick out flowers. The guys will find some excuse to leave the villa for a few hours, then they'll come back and get ready. Wedding ceremony in the afternoon. We'll all go into the city to take photographs, and then we'll come back for a reception dinner at the villa

The day after the wedding (Thursday): Anybody who wants to go to Florence will go to Florence (my family has been talking about a trip there)

Other Things To Know:

Our general colors are brown, blue and sage green. Kind of like that, except the sage green is really sage green (am limited by text colors). Not bright green!

People in the wedding party will not be asked to wear anything in particular, except maybe something that goes along with the general colors if you're standing up.

Here's a copy of the email I just sent to everybody describing a few good fares

Originally we were hoping to group a book flight for everybody. This will not work for various reasons, so it is up to individuals to find good tickets. Do not pay more than $1000 for tickets. If you plan to arrive ahead of time or stay extra, the best deals for hotels are found in what are called "self-catering" (i.e., has a kitchen) apartments outside of the city. You can rent small villas for as cheap as $500 per week if you hunt online, though generally these are far away from the city with gorgeous views. Within the city, check out this site for short term apartment rentals -great apartments in rome can be found for $120 a night. That's only if you're planning to stay outside of the dates that we have rented the villa for

These are the best ticket prices I have seen, but some of them must be purchased by Nov 30th. Some of the flights are already sold out. I would really encourage visiting this site ASAP:

For instance, Logan-->Rome = $750 roundtrip (Greg, can you forward this email to Bryan?)
Phoenix-->Rome = $920 roundtrip
NYC --> London = $540 (nonstop), roundtrip
NYC --> Rome = $880 (nonstop), roundtrip

>From SanFran-->Rome, my friend Jessica already purchased her and her husband's tickets for $840 round trip.

Keep in mind two things:

1) Short connecting flights within the US are often cheap
2) Short connecting flights within Europe are often even cheaper (Madrid --> Rome = $120, London-->Rome = $160, and they often go on sale)
3) Flights will be cheaper from the east coast

The prices to Rome are still pretty good, but if you buy the major segment of the international flight and wait a bit, it is likely that you can find good deals for the shorter leg (e.g., from london to rome, phoenix to NYC, or from hartford to phili)

I have been searching through and found very good prices for NYC-->Rome. 1 stop on the way in + nonstop on the way out = $720 roundtrip

Roundtrip tickets from NYC to Madrid can be found at for $450 including all taxes. Do not let them believe you can fly from NYC-->Madrid-->Rome through their airline (the flights do not connect properly), but you could think about booking the Madrid-->Rome flight separately through a different airline (the NYC-->Madrid flight is nonstop).

Finally, based on these prices, you can also visit and have a sense of how much to bid. Though you won't get to choose your departure time, you can get very good deals this way.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Beautiful Boullabaisse

Cooking in someone else's kitchen (albeit my mother's) is always an adventure. Today I found myself missing my wonderful walnut cutting board, the knife that fits my hand just right, and the pepper grinder that's set to the perfect grind. Shopping for my favorite brands in a new market was even more of an adventure... yet, it was fun, and ultimately I can satisfy my tastebuds just as well in foreign territory. This is Greg's absolute favorite recipe. He jokes that this Boullabaisse Soup is the reason he's marrying me, or, at least, the reason he'll stay married to me when everything else goes bad. As long as I make this soup, we'll be golden.

This recipe takes quite a while to prepare, but it is well worth the effort. It is fishy, comforting, hearty, and bursting with earthy flavor. Sometimes I think an entire bottle of wine is overkill, but then I spoon up this soup and know it's worth it. Sometimes I ommit the carrots and add mushrooms. Sometimes rosemary instead of thyme. As the saying goes, it's all good. For a sweeter soup, use more carrot and celery. For a drier, sharper soup, reduce the vegetables and add more lemon. If you need something lighter, use less garlic, omit the wine and add vegetable stock to compensate.

The onions/garlic must be minced very, very finely (lots of surface area to caramelize and lovely morsles in each spoonfull). The more patient you can be in caramelizing the onions and reducing the wine/stock base, the more intense of a flavor you will get. Simmering the tomatoes for a longer period of time will also sweeten their flavor tremendously. I have found I like a bitter, unsalted vegetable stock (as opposed to sweeter versions) to balance out the carrots and tomato in this dish.

Whatever seafood you feel like - throw on in. The list I had here is a bit overkill. This produces a thick, hearty stew more than a soup! The scallops are very easy to overcook; best to finish cooking them in the soup base while you prepare the shellfish (usually I slice them in half or quarters after searing them).

I think it helps to wait to season the soup base until after the vegetables are done. Adding salt before this will draw out moisture from the vegetables (toughening them and preventing caramelization). I like lots of fresh parsley, lemon, and cayanne pepper in my soup, but others might prefer it plain. If the fishy taste is too much, first take out the clams and crabmeat - without those, the fish flavor is very, very mild.

Sometimes I make extra garlic/shallot/butter (eventually used for the scallops) and reserve it to dunk chunks of bread in. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and both your house and your clothing will smell like fish - beware!! :)

SOUP BASE (easy to make ahead of time)

4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, minced
1 head of garlic minus 3 cloves, minced
3-4 ribs of celery, minced or chopped
2-3 med carrots, minced or chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups dry white wine
35 oz. can of whole tomatoes, juice drained, tomatoes pulled into strips
2 small bay leaves
2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
salt, pepper, and cayanne pepper

1. Mince onions and garlic together
2. Melt butter with olive oil in pan and add onions and garlic. Caramelize for 20-30 minutes
3. Meanwhile, mince the cellery and carrots. Add to soup base and cook for an additional 20 minutes
4. Deglaze with white wine and reduce by 25%
5. Add vegetable stock, tomato strips, bay leaves and other spices
6. Simmer gently for at least 30 minutes with seasoning to taste


1 can clams with juice
1 can crab meat
1 lb flakey white fish (Cod works well)
12 medium scallops or several large ones
12 shellfish (muscles or clams)
1 cup white wine
3 cloves of garlic
1 Shallot

1. Mince shallot and garlic; add to a separate fish pan with olive oil and cook on low heat for 10 minutes
2. Meanwhile, prepare the fish:
- soak the scallops in milk to clean
- scrub shellfish and clean well; place in fresh brine with corn meal to flush out
- slice the white fish into bites and add to simmering soup base (simmer soup base until done!)
3. Turn fish pan to high heat; sear scallops until crispy on the outside and nearly done on the inside; add to soup stock
4. Deglaze with 1 cup wine and immediately steam shellfish. Cook for 6 minutes at most (remove any unopened ones) and add shellfish with cooking liquid to soup

Add chopped parsley. Serve with wedges of lemon and crusty bread.

(Unfortunately my family is not big into shellfish, so there aren't any in the photos I took today!)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Well, at least I have an internet connection.

I had big plans for this post. I was going to detail all of the wonderful thanksgiving concoctions I had planned for dinner. I had plans, oh yes I did. There would be wild rice and cranberry apple stuffing. There would be homemade rosemary scalloped potatoes. There would be green bean casserole with real home made mushroom soup, maybe even some spinach phyllo puffs. There would be pumpkin cheesecake. It was gunna be good folks.

It is approximately 8:32am at the Bradley International Airport, precisely 2 hours after my non-stop flight to Phoenix left the gate without me. The original plan was to get in at 10:10 Arizona Time, cook my family a thanksgiving dinner, and spend the day relaxing, photographing and seeing people I haven't seen in months.

The best laid plans, well...

I'm in a bad mood, bored and need to vent, so I'll tell the story here. If you have a weak constitution, I beg of you, close this internet window now.

11:00pm Wed night. I let Tori out into the backyard.

11:30pm Wed night. Greg and I realize she's not there. Thus follows more than an hour of frantic yelling, calling, cajoling, whistling, and running in 40 degree rain up and down the deserted blocks of New Haven. "Tori! Tori!!!" I wonder what the neighbors think.

12:30am Tori is located. She comes leaping with glee out of the bushes of a neighbor's house. Oh, she can't wait to come inside. She cannot wait to jump all over us and come inside.

12:31am Rachael realizes the horrendous, gag-inducing smell is coming from her dog.

12:32am Further inspection clarifies that the smell is coming both from Tori's mouth, as well as a streak of, erhm, something, down her front. Whatever it was, it was a foul and freaky funk.

12:35am Rachael realizes that merely glancing her sleeve against the dog has transferred the funk to her. Rachael now smells beyond belief.

12:36am Greg declares no dog in house

12:40am Rachael and Greg proceed to rub dog down with towels, spritz her with shampoo, pour water down her front and scrub her with dishwashing liquid, all the while gagging down the indescribably hideous smell and trying not to think of nausea in the 40 degree freezing rain. (I really can't do this smell justice in words. It was bad. It was really gag-inducing)

1:20am Tori goes in her crate so that Rachael and Greg "sleep". Rather, Greg falls asleep and Rachael stares at the ceiling, listening to the sharp scratches of Tori's nails on plastic and her regular cries, growls, and pants as she endures a very upset tummy

2:00am Sounds of throwing up

2:01am Sounds of dog eating throw up

2:05am Smell starts wafting into the bedroom

I'll break narrative at this point. I got up. I spent the next hour scrubbing the carpet and the kennel, disposing of ruined toys, washing mats and scrubbing down her front. I got to watch Tori vomit again, and again and again. I got to be a part of the vomit.

I'm talking projectile, people.

And imagine, if she smelled so bad, what the thing that was making her smell so bad smelled like. There was no way around it: if I didn't save our rugs and other household items then, they would never be usable again, and I'm talking 2 huge 9x12 area rugs that required saving. This had to be done and done thoroughly, or we would live with the funk forever. I finished around 3am.

In order to make my flight (my non-stop!) flight from Hartford to Phoenix we had to leave the house at 4:15am. I set the alarm for 4am. Everything was packed, poised and ready. 1 hour of sleep; I could do it.

I slept through the alarm. I missed my flight by exactly an hour. And now, instead of leaving at 6:32 and arriving at 10:10, I will be leaving bradley at 10:10 and arriving in phoenix, after my connection, at 4:40pm.

Happy thanksgiving. I think I will save the thanksgiving recipes for another day.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pan fried pumpkin sage gnocchi

So I am going to keep repeating these dates in case anyone needs them:

Villa in Italy rented for: May 19-26th (Saturday to Saturday)
Wedding Day: likely May 23
Reception Date: set at Sept 1st

I tried something today that was very yummy. I read elsewhere that you can fry up gnocchi in a pan rather than boil them. Intruiging idea. Even though I doubted it would taste good (doughy... crunchy... raw... ? something?), I thought I'd give it a shot. Two weeks ago I made a huge batch of pumkin sage gnocchi. I froze most of them and they've been sitting around ever since.

I briefly microwaved the frozen gnocchi on low to try to defrost them a bit, put some butter in a pan, and popped in the gnocchi. I added a little red wine to deglaze (in case you can't tell, I'm usually trying to use up leftover wine when I cook. Greg loves wine, and I only mildly enjoy it, so we reliably have extra), fried everything for a minute longer and plated it up with some parmesan cheese.

I think this would be better with a few changes: (1) I would blanch the gnocchi in boiling water first and do the pan frying in olive oil instead of butter (the butter browned up too much). (2) White wine rather than red, for sure, or maybe a more complex sauce (3) If I was better at making gnocchi, they would have been a more uniform size, and they would have cooked evenly. There were a few that weren't quite done.

Even with all of that... Yum. They were crispy, dense, chewy and had a more robust flavor than the normal boiled gnocchi. I had a hard time getting a good photo of something so, err, covered in butter, but trust me it tasted great. Actually, the best part was the texture - these would hold up well to a chunky sauce with lots of veggies, or maybe something with shallots and garlic.

Monday, November 13, 2006

There's no food like comfort food

Some of you have been asking about the wedding dates, and I realized that I haven't posted them here.

Villa in Italy rented for: May 19-26th (Saturday to Saturday)
Wedding Day: likely May 23
Reception Date: set at Sept 1st

Back to more important things. Like, for instance, cauliflower kugel. This recipe caught my eye, not so much for the vegetable involved (because of all the vegetables, let's face it, cauliflower's no Corvette), but because it was under the passover section of epicurious, and I got a little - uhm, curious. If there's one thing that the Jewish people are good at, it's comfort food. From spinach casserole to potato knishes, matzoh ball soup and noodle kugel, we've got all things guilt-ridden and fit for a cold winter covered. How then could such a tradditional dish be made healthy... light... gourmet? Hm, this required investigating.

It did take a long time to make, there're too many dishes to clean up, and yes, when I was done it looked like the cauliflower had exploded (been murdered?) in my kitchen - but I think it was worth it, as evidence by the almost-three helpings I had myself.

The original recipe can be found here. After reading through the comments and assessing my pantry, I made a few changes. First, most people agreed that the cauliflower itself needed a little pick-me-upper. In this case, I added two cloves of garlic and an indecent amount of salt (did I measure? Of course not).

Secondly, this recipe is begging for a breadcrumb/cheese topping. The original topping called for parsley, dill and almonds. Not wanting to destroy the lightness of the dish, but really wanting a crispy topping, I changed the topping to parsley, dill, 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 cup storebought breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup parmesean (grated). This change may have been a mistake. It's not that the topping was bad (trust me, with that much butter soaked breadcrumb for every bite, it was, as Rachael Ray would put it, "Yum-OH") - it was just a little bit oily. When I make this again, I'll lighten up the topping and cut the leek olive in half.

I also like things crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, so I cooked this at 425 for 30 minutes instead of 350.

Now I've had "mashed cauliflower" before, and I don't like it. It's not bad - I just find myself wanting mashed potatoes. It's too similar to the classic dish. Maybe it's because I'm not in the habit of eating lots of kugel, but I thought this dish really was a good, fiber filled substitute to the normal carbohydrate concoction. I liked the fresh herbs, though I thought they were a little too sharp. Needs something in there to blend the flavors more - maybe the almonds would have done that.

2 medium heads of cauliflower
2 large leeks
2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
6 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp matzo meal
3 large eggs
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch dill, chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Break apart the cauliflower and chop up the florets. Rinse and add to a steamer basket. Bring water to a boil and steam until tender (about 20 minutes)

2. Meanwhile, split the leeks down the center and rinse very well. They often have dirt in them, so it helps to pry back the layers while rinsing. Chop into 1/4 inch sections. Add 4 tbsp oil to a pan with garlic and leeks; cook until softened (10-15 minutes)

3. When the cauliflower and leek mixtures are cooked, drain the cauliflower and add it to the leek pan. Roughly mash the cauliflower with the back of a spoon.

4. While the vegetables are cooling, add matzo meal, 3 eggs, and a large pinch of the chopped parsley and dill each to a bowl. Salt and pepper liberally. Mix well and add to cooled vegetables.

5. Grease baking dish with olive oil. Add vegetable/egg mixture and spread evenly.

6. Mix bread crumbs, parmesean cheese, butter and remaining olive oil together. Layer this on top of the vegetables. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees, or until the center has set. Let cool for 10 minutes before eating.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Solanum Lycopersicum Soup

This is a must-try recipe. Even if you don't cook, you must try this recipe - it's too easy not to. Even if you don't like tomatos (like me), you must try this recipe - it'll change your mind. Even if you don't have a craving for soup, you must try this recipe - you'll want it every day for a month. It's that good. Greg and I spent the evening comparing its soothing, rich flavors to something dangerously addictive. There's crack in there somewhere, we concluded - the oven heat must magically turn canned tomatos into cocaine, or whatever else the tomatoey-goodness tang must be.

It's good. Really good.

And I can't take any credit for it. Thanks to Deb at, one of my favorite food bloggers, who recently tried this America's Test Kitchen Recipe. Here's how my version went.

Cream of Tomato Soup
Slightly modified from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook

2 (35-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved
1½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small sweet onion, minced (about ½ cup)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced.
1.5 tablespoon tomato paste
Dash of nutmeg
Pinch of poultry seasoning
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups low sodium vegetable stock
½ cup light cream
Salt and Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drain both cans and reserve juice. Split tomatoes and carefully de-seed over a strainer.

2. Lay out seeded tomato pieces on a single layer on two baking sheets and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar. Roast tomatoes for approximately 30 minutes, or until they start to color. Let cool.

(I use sil-pat, a non-stick silicone liner, with most things that I bake. It makes cleanup a breeze. If you don't have a silicone liner, use silver foil.)

3. Meanwhile, finely mince a small onion and clove of garlic. Heat butter in a saucepan until melted, add onion, garlic, 2tbsp of tomato paste, nutmeg and poultry seasoning. Cook over low until the onion is done - about 5-10 minutes.

4. Add 2tbsp flour and whisk well. Cook for an additional minute.

5. Add in the liquids slowly while whisking to ensure a smooth sauce: 3 cups reserved juice and 1 3/4 cup low sodium vegetable stock. Add roasted tomatoes and allow to simmer well for 10 minutes (to mellow the flavors). Strain the soup over a bowl and add solids to a blender. Blend to desired consistency and return to fluids. Mix well.

6. Add 1/2 cup light cream, salt and pepper to taste. Dish up.

I spent the next 45 minutes trying my creative juices with Greg - what could I add to this? What other special flavor would make this even better? Grated cheese? More garlic? Roasted yellow pepper or herbed croutons? Next to pilaf, rice, bulgar wheat, over a potatoe or with roasted asparagus couscous? He made me promise to not to change the recipe at all, but to make this soup again and again exactly as this recipe described.

Why, might you ask, has Rachael been posting about recipes instead of chatting about the wedding? Well, there's not much for planning of the wedding, since it is in Italy so as to avoid the planning. And I've been trying to force myself to take more down-time. Cooking, taking photos, and then talking about them online qualifies as fantastic down-time that keeps me from working on work. I.e., this is for my own good rather than your's - unless you try making this tomato soup, in which case, everybody wins.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

With an afternoon to myself, why not make a little butternut squash ravioli?

Greg's parents brought an enourmous butternut squash with them from PA (along with an enourmous pumpkin and, previously, two huge zucchini). The squash was as large as head pillow for an airplane, literally. I got it around my neck and then I couldn't pull it off. Squash ravioli it is. I felt I had to record this particular cooking endeavor, given its mamoth proportions.

Even splitting this thing open was a challenge! But the guts look cool

Cleaned out and sprinkled with coarse salt, it was so orange that it overexposed the red channel in my camera in all of the photos I took.

Roasted, it made the house smell delicious. (There's a long story that occurred while I was roasting the squash, but I'll leave that for another day)

Eventually, we got to eat the ravioli. With a good salad and a glass of wine, that's a perfect meal.

Here's the recipe:

2 cups butternut squash, split and seeds removed
3/4 c. pecorino cheese (the good stuff), grated
1/2 c. parmesan cheese (the good stuff), grated
5 tbsp butter
4tbsp maple syrup
1/4-1/2 c. chopped walnuts (I like them fairly finely chopped)
1 sweet onion, sliced thinly
1 c. white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
I used wonton wrappers because I was too busy to roll out pasta dough, but fresh pasta would bring this over the top.

1. Sprinkle the squash with coarse salt and roast for ~60 minutes at 350, or until fork tender. Process through a ricer
2. Add cheeses, 1tbsp butter and 2tbsp maple syrup
3. Form into ravioli
4. Drop into boiling salted water and cook until they float

Meanwhile, make the sauce:
1. Add remaining butter and onion to a pan and carmelize for about 15 minutes. Add remaining maple syrup
2. Deglaze with ~1c. white wine
3. Add walnuts, more butter if necessary, and reduce by half

Assemble with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tori, Tori pumpkin eater

The Evidence:

The Suspect:

Give this dog an hour, and she can do anything. More chutzpah and determination than I have! Fortunately this was a small sugar pumpkin that I was planning to bake into a pie the next day, so there wasn't as much pumpkin for her to get and it was harder to get into. Last year she ate the better part of a 10lb monster pumpkin. Both pumpkins were intact. She did the same thing to a canteloupe several years ago. Weirdo...