Friday, December 31, 2010

Is this heaven?

It's Iowa.

Now there's a hilarious quote to contemplate when you are spending another winter here in the Corn State. Remarkably, despite the weather, people remain as friendly as ever. After spending 24 hours in the black hole, otherwise known as the Detroit airport, the friendly and empathetic gate agent at Eastern Iowa Airport - Cedar Rapids was a welcome sight. In a matter of minutes, the memories of sullen and surly (Delta) employees notifying us of cancelled flights, lost luggage, or equipment malfunction, had all but faded.

Not to say that I didn't rip (Delta) airline a new one when they requested a "feedback" survey regarding my delayed flight. Best not to get on my bad side, that's all I'm saying.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cleanse and Detox

On a post-Thanksgiving whim, we opted to attend a Saturday morning session of Anusara Flow yoga. This weekend's theme was "cleanse and detox" - fitting given the time of year and the ridiculous amount of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie I managed to consume on Thursday. After a full hour and a half of faux-religious, but well-meaning inundations of Tantric philosophy (I was told to "dance with my breath", whatever that may mean) and some serious ass-stretches, I was ready to take on the mindful-healthful tenants of yogic thought. With my husband snoring peacefully beside me during savasana (aptly translated as, "corpse pose"), I did my best to open my mind and be at one with my "life's energy." It wasn't until after I had downed a freshly made glazed donut and coffee not 5 minutes after class or even after I had purchased a Stouffer's Swedish Meatballs Homestyle Classics in Large Satisfying Size for lunch that I realized just how short my memory span really is. It's true, we can all do better.

Yes, I did just spend a full day at work on a Saturday.

No, I don't get paid overtime.

Yes, I could have eaten TWO Stouffer's Swedish Meatballs Homestyle Classics in Large Satisfying Size for lunch,

but I only purchased one.

There is hope. May the life force be with you.


Leaf Kitchen

Of the many little "gems" in Iowa City, Leaf Kitchen has to be one of my favorites. It is a small little restaurant located on the outskirts of downtown Iowa City, offering wine, beer and sake as well as an interesting mix of small Japanese/Asian-inspired plates. The dinner menu includes simple, fresh and delicious dishes. The Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with cashew nuts, goat cheese, onion, mint and yuzu vinaigrette made for a refreshing starter as did the Grilled Shrimp and White Bean Salad with fresh herbs, tomato, sprouts and pistachio-mint oil. We have had the Korean-style Zucchini Pancakes with spicy dipping soy sauce and the Pan fried Tofu Dumplings with shiitake mushroom carrots, scallion and pine nuts at least a couple of times (both delicious!) and the Cold Sesame Noodles were a light accompaniment. If you are looking for something light, healthy and veggie-friendly, Leaf Kitchen is the spot to be.

In terms of atmosphere, at night, Leaf Kitchen has an adorable charm. One can imagine this is some place other than the middle of Iowa - a hippie cafe in San Francisco or New York perhaps. I have heard the brunch menu is quite good although I have yet to try it out. The afternoon tea was pleasant, but not in the fabulous way of the Taj back in Boston. Service at tea time left much to be desired. While the food was quite good, we were rather rudely berated for having one less person show up for our reservation (a last minute cancellation beyond our control). Pity, since afternoon tea is generally such a pleasant experience.

Despite the latter experience I will undoubtably come back again for dinner (it really is wonderful).


Leaf Kitchen
301 Kirkwood Avenue
Iowa City, IA 52240
(319) 338-1909

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010



Before coming to Iowa, my only experience with Twisters revolved around wacked out Judy Garland movies or embarrassing party games. I guess there was also that mid-90's movie with Helen Hunt and another actor. In any case, my knowledge was, at best, limited.

My very first day in Iowa City (interview day) happened to be the first Monday of the month (when they test the weather siren). Around 9am the siren went off - a deafening scary-movie sound. My interviewer went on talking as if nothing was going on. I tried to chat for a little while but could barely hear the guy. Finally I just asked about the sound.

Me: "What is that deafening noise?"

Interviewer: "Oh that's just the tornado siren."

Me (trying not to sound panicky): "Uh, should we be concerned about this?"

Interviewer: "It's probably just a test."

Right. Probably just a test.

I believe I was assured that we're not in Kansas so "twisters" really aren't too much of an issue out here. Then again, here is Iowa City in April of 2006:

What I find funny about this video is that a number of the people featured are smiling - they seem excited more than anything else. I love how in the midst of the storm people came out into the streets to see what was going on. There's the frat guy who talks about the cars piled on top of each other, and describes the dumpster "...which is, like, not normally here."


There is at least one home video of the twister itself as it blows through the downtown area. I ask you, who in their right mind would be out on the street holding a video camera?

People have a way of adapting to just about any situation. Earlier this week there was a tornado "warning" (ie a tornado was spotted in a neighboring county). I happen to work in a bunker of a building so everyone just carried on as normal, including myself. I just hoped the warning would go away in time for me to head home for dinner.

I'm no idiot, but I do agree, life goes on.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sprüngli: I want to go to there

If you haven't already seen 30 Rock, just know that it's brilliant. One of my favorite lines was coined by Tina Fey's three-year old daughter. It sums up a lot of my thoughts (about food) perfectly:

"I want to go to there."

Sprüngli is a fantastic-looking Swiss pastry shop located in Zurich. They serve Luxemburgerli (aka French style macaroons, one of my all time favorite sweets) along with some **amazing** looking Swiss chocolates. Sprüngli may be one of Switzerland's best (or so I hear). It must be heaven if the website displays raining Luxemburgerli. Any doubt and just check out the shop images on the Passionate Eater. Oh my.

"I want to go to there."


Confiserie Sprüngli AG
Bahnhofstrasse 21
CH-8022 Zürich

Tel. +41 44 224 46 46
Fax.+41 44 224 47 35

Friday, June 18, 2010


While at the Farmer's Market the other day, I noticed a strange looking vegetable at several of the produce stalls. It came in both green and purple and seemed somewhat like a fennel bulb with multiple branching leaves. Seeing as it (whatever "it" might be) was in season, I decided to give it a try.

Kohlrabi, as it turns out, is a cultivar of the cabbage. The name comes from the German Kohl ("cabbage") plus Rübe ~ Rabi (Swiss German variant) ("turnip") (according to Wikipedia). Interesting.

I first sliced it and tasted it raw (recommended by a friend). It had a distinctive turnip-like bitterness, the texture of a crisp apple, and the flavor of a watered down broccoli stem. Hm. Not my favorite.

When it comes to recipes for strange vegetables I turn to Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love cookbook, a veritable encyclopedia of random non-meat foods. Only one recipe was devoted to the kohlrabi (Kafka states her husband hates it and she can only "abide" it.) Apprehensive, but curious, I read on.

The recipe called for a little water, a simple stuffing, and then microwave.


Given that I couldn't see myself eating the rest of the bulb raw, I figured, what the heck. I peeled off the tough outer layer, added a little water and into the microwave it went. Minutes later the kohlrabi came out a pleasant pale jade green, steamy and smelling surprisingly mild and fresh. I added a little olive oil, salt and pepper then gave it a taste.


Steamed kohlrabi has a delicate flavor, somewhere between a cauliflower and a turnip. If you like those two things (I happen to love cauliflower and will occasionally enjoy turnip if cooked properly), then kohlrabi is a worthy early summer vegetable to add to your plate. Who knew that microwaved food could turn out so well?

So the next time you are at the Farmers Market and see something strange, why not give it a try? You never know what you're going to get.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Julia Child's Chicken Fricassee

Despite being a foodie and lover of chicken dishes, I have never made a fricassee. In fact, until I read Julia Child's detailed description in one of her cookbooks I wasn't too sure what a fricassee involved exactly (it's basically chicken in a mushroom cream sauce.)

I had picked up some Kalona chicken at the New Pi the other day and figured this would be a good starting point. The recipe itself was fairly straightforward - a little pan saute with butter and olive oil, then poaching in white wine and chicken broth. I added onions, mushrooms then half-and-half just as Julia suggested. Sadly, my chicken came out on the stringy side (but it was flavorful!) I'm not sure if this was due to my lack of chicken cooking talent (I can roast an entire chicken fairly well, but maybe fricassee takes more finesse?) or to the fact that Kalona chickens probably spend their days roaming the Iowan hillsides rather than cooped up in cramped quarters with the rest of their mass-produced brethren. My guess is that in my efforts to avoid any risk of Salmonella I probably over-cooked the meat. The sauce also had a few gliches. Julia claims one simply cooks the mushrooms a few minutes before stirring in the cream. This resulted in a very thin, but high volume cooking liquid that wasn't very saucy at all. I ended up simmering the sauce down to thicken it up (the end product was very good.)

The upside to this dish is that it reheats very nicely (unlike the shrimp pasta dish I had made the night before). The chicken flavor was intensified and the sauce was a bit thicker - perfect for a quick lunch (or in my case, a second dinner.) I recommend putting the sauce on some pasta (ravioli works really well!)



Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Marcella Hazan's Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream

Seeing as the Vegetarian is out of town for the next two weeks, I decided to take this opportunity to cook up some of the many meat, fish, and poultry dishes I've always wanted to try. I had just seen Food, Inc, so mass-produced food was out, and organic, humanely raised, or wild caught was in. Fortunately there is a New Pi in town.

I picked up some frozen wild caught Gulf shrimp for my first meal of the week. In retrospect, "Gulf" shrimp may not have been the way to go, but trace amounts of petroleum never hurt anyone, right? And maybe these shrimp were frozen before the last 3 months... any case, the shrimp were bought and all I had to do was find the right recipe . One of my favorite dishes is Marcella Hazan's Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream. This is a heavenly dish made with surprisingly few ingredients: olive oil, garlic, shrimp, tomato paste, white wine, cream, and some parsley garnish. You basically just cook up the first few items in a pan (2 minutes), blend up 2/3 of the cooked shrimp, add that back to the pan along with the rest of the sauce and you're good to go. SO easy. SO delicious. I could probably eat this dish every night this week.

Of course, cooking for one isn't always the best thing in the world. As it turns out, Pink Shrimp Sauce with Cream doesn't reheat so well. The once creamy, luscious sauce starts to separate when microwaved. Le sigh...I suppose it's still better than cafeteria food so I really shouldn't complain.

Tomorrow's menu: Julia Child's Chicken Fricassee!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cheese or Font

Cheese or Font - this is no easy task!

Burrowing Owl Bakery

My favorite bakery in all of Iowa City isn't exactly a bakery in the traditional sense. There's no shop that you can visit; no glass case filled with pastries. Instead, the Burrowing Owl Bakery is a little wooden stand at the Saturday Farmers Market manned by Allie Gnade (the baker) and her boyfriend. I had heard about the amazing baking talents of Allie from a friend of mine who used to work at Grinnell (Allie is a former Grinnellian). And after tasting one of her delectable lemon tarts, I was an immediate convert.

The Lemon Tart consists of a bright, flavorful lemon filling inside a crisp, buttery shortbread pastry shell. Shortbread doesn't really do this crust justice - more than a shortbread, this pastry shell is light, flaky and absolutely delicious. The filling is also something I can't even begin to describe. It's got an intense lemon flavor and a smooth, creamy texture. Amazing. I have also tried Allie's Chocolate Caramel Tart. This is seriously heavenly. The chocolate is rich, with a wonderful sweetness (but like the lemon tart, not too overly-sweet). It pairs well with the fantastic shortbread crust. While the sweets are my favorite, the onion rosemary tart was also delicious (more of a quiche-type filling) - I basically inhaled one of these for lunch the other day.

Allie bakes all of her pastries and breads in her mother's oven the night before the Farmers Market (so supplies are often limited). Get to the market early if you want the best selection!


Burrowing Owl Bakery
Allie Gnade
Iowa City, IA

Optus Training Camp

Optus Secret Training Camp from Paranoid US on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Click on the screen to feed him...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


One of my friends just wished me a Happy Easter/Passover, aka E-Pass. Isn’t that a great term? As a former practicing non-Jew married to a never-practicing Jew, I do appreciate the acceptance of our modern age. Tonight I am hoping to make a very basic Passover meal, complete with (vegetarian) matzo ball soup and a side of charoset. While there aren’t too many Jews in Iowa City, I did notice a single folding table at our local HyVee, displaying a few boxes of matzo, a couple packages of egg noodles, and some jars of (rather unappetizing) matzo ball soup. I could not find matzo meal or even that boxed matzo ball mix anywhere in the store (not even in the “International” aisle.) Ah well. Supposedly one can make homemade matzo meal simply by crushing up some matzo crackers. We’ll see how this goes…

Happy E-Pass everyone!!!


p.s. Speaking of the Jewish tradition, if you haven't already seen A Serious Man, I highly recommend it!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Patty's Day

If, like most of America, you went out for a pint (or two) with friends to celebrate St. Patty's Day, I hope you found a bar that serves some decent pub fare in addition to a properly poured Guinness. Some will argue that a good beer is a meal in a glass, but Guinness has fewer calories and alcohol than most domestic beers. So corned beef and cabbage might be just the thing to pair with your drink. Or in my case, a well-crafted Reuben.

As usual, we ended up at Donnelly's Irish Pub. I never quite understood the draw - Donnelly's is a classic Irish pub - they serve freshly popped popcorn and have a pretty traditional menu. Then I tried the Reuben. Oh. Dear. God. Donnelly's makes its own slow-cooked corn beef brisket, which is sliced to order. The sandwich is served with swiss cheese and kraut on freshly toasted rye bread. They give you a small container of 1000 Island dressing for dipping or spreading. The whole shebang is served with fries and a crisp pickle.

I often think that the sign of a good sandwich is that the pickle is nice, cool and crisp. True to this benchmark, the Donnelly's Reuben is truly amazing. I pretty much inhaled the whole thing before getting halfway through my Guinness. The meat was flavorful and juicy, the kraut and swiss went perfectly with the slightly salty meat, and the rye gave it just the right amount of crunch.

There are other tempting items on the menu. The fish & chips are quite good, as are the chicken strips. The beef stew served over mashed potatoes looks heavenly. Of course, every time I go there I will have a hard time not ordering the best Reuben I have ever had. With a good beer to wash it all down, how can you go wrong?

Happy St. Patty's Day!


p.s. Donnelly's also has a fairly extensive whiskey menu, from a cheap Jameson to a 30 yr Glenfiddich.

Donnelly's Pub
110 College Street
Iowa City, IA 52240
(319) 338-7355

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Java House

On my first ever trip to Iowa City one of the first orders of business was to check out the local coffee shops. Java House was recommended by nearly everyone I talked to - and no wonder - there are more than half a dozen of these spots all over the town and University. While some have complained of the time lag on the individual drip coffee - I am a HUGE fan. If one is not in a hurry (and why would you be in a hurry in Iowa?) freshly brewed, good coffee is a serious benefit of living in a small college town.

The atmosphere at the downtown Java House is nice - cozy despite the enormous space. It seems like a good place to do some work (free WiFi) although it is a bit dark for my taste. The Java House at the Hospital is more of a take-out type of coffee spot. I tried the "iced chai" which was more of a rich flavored iced cream than anything else. The Mate Latte was likewise overly sugar and creamed. Ah well, you can't have it all.

I have been to Java Houses too many times to count. The coffee and tea selection is excellent and it's a fantastic place to sit and read.

FYI: For those of you who are local, tomorrow, Wednesday March 10, the Java House downtown is serving $1 brewed coffees, caffe lattes and hot teas ALL DAY LONG.


Java House
211 E. Washington Street
Iowa City, IA 52240
(319) 341-0012

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"This is the story of America"

For the last couple of days it has been brutally cold here in Iowa City. I have spent the walks to the bus stop bundled up in long-underwear, an ankle-length down coat, and moonboots. Meanwhile, my husband has spent his mornings driving into work with the window down and his head sticking out because his windshield is covered in ice.

Funny, because just the other night I read this quote In Jack Kerouac's famous novel, "On the Road":

"Dean, Marylou, and Ed Dunkel roared east along Colfax and out to the Kansas plains. Great snowstorms overtook them. In Missouri, at night, Dean had to drive with his scarf-wrapped head stuck out the window, with snowglasses that made him look like a monk peering into the manuscripts of the snow, because the windshield was covered with an inch of ice."

Seeing as we're not of the Beat Generation, it seems likely that we're just nutty Americans living in the midwest.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Tragedy strikes twice...

Despite it's popularity and excellent reputation, small town restaurant, Taste on Melrose, has closed it's doors as of February 14th, 2010. Had I known the place was shutting down I would have made every effort to stop in for lunch and/or dinner. How sad! I reviewed this adorable place back in November. Not only was Taste on Melrose the closest neighborhood restaurant to our home in Iowa City, it was also one of my favorites in town. :^(

As if that tragedy were not enough, my one and only favorite chocolate shop in Iowa City has ALSO shut down with hardly any notice. Chocolate Block is no more.

Now the only option for high quality chocolates is Bochner. The chocolates at Bochner are certainly very pretty to look at. The chocolate covered nuts are tasty, but also quite expensive. Likewise, the perfectly formed shiny mounds of chocolates behind the glass case taste very nice. The chocolates are smooth and chocolate-y, the fillings are smooth and creamy. Some flavors are more potent than others. The Sea Salt Caramel is excellent as is the Frangelico and Amaretto. However, the more subtle flavors such as Lavender and Pistachio leave much to be desired. I am not sure these pretty treats are worth the steep price. ESPECIALLY given that Chocolate Block sold the same chocolate for a fraction of the price! Yes, Chocolate Block and Bochner were one and the same. So I suppose it makes perfect sense why Bochner would close its low-priced bulk sales shop. Sad to say, I'm not sure I can bring myself to spend the cash on chocolates I could once buy for $5 per pound...

R.I.P. Taste on Melrose and Chocolate Block. You will be sorely missed...


Monday, February 8, 2010

Homemade Bouillon

One of the drawbacks of following a near all-vegetarian diet these days is the lack of a good chicken or beef stock replacement. Vegetable stock in a carton is decent, but cumbersome and expensive. Purchased vegetable bouillon is often not particularly good and filled with weird-sounding preservatives and MSG. I've tried making my own vegetable stock by boiling a variety of vegetables. I even tried slow-cooking a veggie stock once (it was ok, but not great.) Then I found this recipe on the 101 Cookbooks website. The original recipe was inspired by The River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin.

Homemade bouillon is incredibly easy to make. Basically you just blend together a bunch of vegetables with a decent amount of salt. I used what I had on hand (leeks, fennel, carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley and cilantro), but you could probably add whatever vegetables you like depending on your flavor profile. The end product was a rich, vibrant paste of flavor that seriously enhances just about any dish requiring "broth." I've made soups and sauces with the stuff and it improves everything at least 10-fold. Dare I say that a spoonful of this homemade vegetable bouillon will top most purchased meat-based stocks?


Yes, it's true. I suppose it doesn't quite stack up to a good homemade chicken stock, but considering veggie bouillon takes all of 5 minutes to make (vs hours of simmering a decent meat stock) I'm more likely to keep the veggie stuff around for just about any quick (and delicious!) meal.


p.s. Vegetable bouillon also freezes very easily!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Midnight munchies

Well, it isn't midnight here in Iowa, but when it gets cold and dark by 7pm, I get a craving for midnight munchies no matter what the time. I wanted something fast, easy and preferably toasted. After a little thought I decided to grab the graham crackers sitting in my cabinet, smeared on some peanut butter and topped them with mini marshmallows. The concoction went under the broiler for a minute or two (until the marshmallows got nice and toasty brown!) A glass of milk and I was ready to munch! SUCH a great combo - why haven't I thought of this before?

I suppose if you were going the more traditional route you could make this snack with regular hershey's chocolate (I didn't happen to have any in the cupboard.) Peanut butter was a fantastic substitute (dare I say, I hardly missed the chocolate!)

Happy munching!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lincoln Cafe

In a surprising show of romantic inclination this weekend, my husband took me out on a date at a restaurant that I had been eying ever since we first moved to Iowa. Lincoln Café (and the nearby Lincoln Wine Bar) are run by chef and owner Matt Steigerwald. His charming description on his website reads as follows,

"chef/owner matt steigerwald opened lincoln café in july 2001, after arriving in iowa from north carolina. before that fateful move, he cooked and/or ran the show at several restaurants, including helen's in richmond, va; vertigo in raleigh, nc; and magnolia grill in durham, nc. he lives with his sweetie michelle, a professor and belletrist, in mount vernon, where he is finally adjusting to the weather."

That pretty much says it all. I also have a sweetie professor who moved to Iowa, so I understand weather thing.

In any case, I was super excited to try out the food. I had heard many good things from a variety of sources, all saying that Lincoln Café is one of the best restaurants in the state of Iowa. Having been to a number of good places in Iowa City, we were eager to branch out to neighboring towns. The restaurant does not take reservations, but if you call ahead they'll put you on their waiting list to try and get you a seat. Of course, if you find there is a wait, the wine bar down the street looks like the perfect place to kill some time (with a glass of wine and some bar snacks). We got lucky and ended up at two counter seats (a perfect spot to watch the action in the kitchen.) Lincoln Café is small, but the high ceilings make the place feel more spacious. The combination of old brick walls, featured local artists, and diner style booths and tables, made the place feel comfortable and unpretentious. The specials (3) were on the board along with the list of desserts. I love a place that has only a few offerings because it means they are probably done quite well (like in many Iowan restaurants, the emphasis here is on fresh, local ingredients.) After much debate, I opted for the steak with sunchoke puree, fried lime, and some sort of mushroom confit with cubes of parsnip or potatoes, octopus and grilled baby lettuce. This dish was fantastic. The steak was perfectly cooked (medium rare) and very tender. There were some grisly bits I wasn't a fan of, but I am fairly picky when it comes to steak. The puree perfectly complemented the steak, the mushrooms were wonderfully seasoned, and the octopus was perfectly cooked. I've never had octopus before and worried that it would be tough and rubbery. Instead, the octopus was tender and delicious. I could have eaten a bowl of the stuff.

For dessert we opted for the bread pudding with cranberry ice cream and some sort of crunchy caramel topping. This was also fantastic. The bread pudding was moist, and not cloying, the ice cream was smooth, creamy, and surprisingly not overtly tart. The sauce was also delicious. If I had room, I would have tried the other desserts as well (the apple pot pie looked divine.)

Overall, I was very impressed with the food. We were close to the kitchen so I got to see all of the dishes that went out. The prawns with grits looked amazing, as did the stuffed quail. If only I had a stomach for three people. The restaurant is quite small so they do not have a liquor license. Fortunately, the wine bar is just a few steps away and they encourage you to bring bottles or glasses of wine over to have with your meal (the nominal cork fee is waved if you buy wine from their wine bar.) The only downside to the place is that vegetarians are not well accommodated. Every entree had meat, poultry or fish so my sweetie professor opted for a soup/salad combo, which was quite good, but not the same as an entree. The chef/owner was in the kitchen at the time and offered to adjust one of the main courses for us, but many of the components contained seafood or chicken broth.

Still, for those of us who do eat meat, Lincoln Cafe might be one of the best in Iowa.

Happy dining!


Lincoln Cafe
117 First Street West
Mt. Vernon, IA 52314
(319) 895-4041

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The American Bald Eagle winters in Iowa City

This morning we saw our first (20+) Bald Eagles. Who would have thought that Iowa City is a prime place to view the American Bald Eagle in the wild?

I had heard that these magnificent creatures migrate south for winter feeding down the Mississippi (and up the Iowa River.) A bridge next to the Iowa River Power Restaurant is ideally situated for eagle watching. Having accidentally spent three days with some avid bird watchers in Ecuador last summer, I know how patient one must be to catch a glimpse of a rare bird in its natural habitat. Not so with the Bald Eagle. Simply park at the restaurant, walk a few feet across the well shoveled bridge and you'll be among them. These birds were ENORMOUS with wingspans reaching up to 6 feet in length. They were perched in the trees lining the river, soaring overhead and fishing in the river right in front of our noses.


...and to think these birds were once considered "endangered species."

Happy birding!


Image lifted from

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ricotta (from scratch)

On a whim, I decided to try a hand at making homemade ricotta this weekend. I had heard that it is uber-easy to make. I have had it at one of my favorite restaurants in Boston, La Morra, where they serve it soft, in a pool of nice olive oil and topped with freshly grated black pepper (perfect for spreading on homemade bread!) Seeing as my trips to Boston are few and far between I figured I should try and replicate this yummy appetizer at home.

A few items are required to make ricotta-making easy:

1. a cheesecloth
2. a colander
3. a meat/candy thermometer
4. a large pot

I basically took a gallon of whole milk, heated it to 200 degrees (whisking to keep the milk from burning on the bottom of the pot), then added a little salt, and about a 1/4 cup of white vinegar (you can use lemon juice as well). The curds formed immediately and all I had to do was pour the mixture through a cheesecloth covered colander to separate the curds and whey. You can actually keep the whey and use it to make biscuits.

The ricotta was soft and delicious just as is, but I happen to like it with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. I've heard you can freeze the cheese (although it will not be as good as fresh), but my plan is to make some ricotta gnocchi with the bulk of it and to eat the remainder on toast.

Authentic ricotta cheese is made from whey left over from the cheese making process, but this takes several gallons. Using whole milk is a faster, easier way to make a good substitute. A gallon of milk produces a large hunk of ricotta - maybe about a pound. Be sure to have a recipe or two lined up because it won't last in your fridge for long!



Friday, January 1, 2010

Sportello vs Grezzo

After a lunch at the one raw/vegan restaurant in town (see previous post), it seemed only right to try a place that does not have such stringent cooking restrictions. I had a chance to visit Sportello, one of Barbara Lynch's creations. Remarkably enough, a highly recommended dish on the Sportello menu is very similar (sounding) to the "gnocchi" I had at Grezzo. Here is my direct comparison of the two dishes:

1. Grezzo's home-made "gnocchi." So long as you are not expecting these to taste like anything too familiar, they are quite good. The nut paste "gnocchi" were soft and a little bit gooey in texture and tasted like creamy nuts and sesame. The "rawmesan" sauce made with coconut milk was creamy and cool (food at Grezzo is not heated above 112 degrees), and the very crisp English peas and pea shoots were a good counterpart to the creaminess of the sauce and the soft texture of the "gnocchi". Because this dish lacks just about any kind of starch, I ended up feeling full but not quite satisfied.

2. Sportello's potato gnocchi with porcini, peas and cream. This was heaven in a bowl. The gnocchi were light, perfectly shaped dumplings with a bit of chew, the peas were fresh, crisp and delicious in the creamy, yet surprisingly light cream sauce drizzled with a bit of truffle oil and sprinkled with teeny bits of sliced chives. The food was served steaming hot in a warmed shallow bowl. If I had not just eaten a large basket of bread with whipped ricotta I would have snarfed this up even quicker than I did.

On it's own, Grezzo is certainly a worthwhile foodie experience (but only for the open-minded). Sportello, on the other hand, is much more accessible - especially for anyone who appreciates freshly made pasta. Given the choice, I would almost always choose the Sportello gnocchi dish over the one at Grezzo, but mainly because during the winter I like my food steaming hot and starch-laden. Maybe in the dead of summer I would make an alternative choice, but I doubt it.


348 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210-1236
(617) 737-1234

Image lifted from