13 8 / 2012
I am not the first person to try to define the connection between food and emotions. It’s obvious that certain meals we encounter can create or evoke some of our strongest memories. In fact, the emotional aspect of these memories often seem to out way specific details or the context. Remember the first time you had you ate chocolate chip cookies? No, probably not. You might not remember sitting at that kitchen table, maybe with Sesame Street echoing from the living room, but I as soon as you think of chocolate chip cookies you feel a certain way. Unless you had a traumatic experience involving Cookie Monster, I’m guessing it’s a good feeling. You don’t remember when or where it happened, but at some time in your life you ate a cookie and it made you feel good. Maybe you felt safe, loved, special. Or maybe I’m simply reading too much into it and you just really liked the taste of that cookie.
You may have come across the phrase “cooking with love.” Honestly, I’m a little sick of it at this point. I mean, I know what people mean when they say this. It about caring not only about the flavors of the food, but also caring about the person who is going to eat it. It’s about wanting them to have the best possible experience. It’s about wanting to make people feel something (that is, anything besides boredom or disgust) when they eat your food. Basically, it translates into giving a shit. But I think this catchy little motto is thrown around too easily. Honestly, it seems to be a bit of an ego thing. “I cooked this with LOVE,” a chef might say to me, to which I could respond, “Then why are you bragging about it?”
This is actually a very common thing I encounter among chefs. It’s a perpetual ego problem. Some of the best chefs have it. Some don’t. The fact is, cooking professionally is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting. I love it when someone asks what I do and then say, “Aw I would LOVE to cook for a living! That’d be SO much fun.” It’s hard not to laugh. It’s not a ‘nice’ job. It’s not like cooking at home for a few admiring friends. You literally have to be a little bit crazy to be a cook. It’s dirty, sweaty, and mean. It’s hot. It’s very hard. And for this reason we take a lot of pride in our work. But easy to let that pride run away from you, and once it does it can expand into a heavy and useless ego.
So what IS cooking with love? For me it could be grandfather making pasta sauce from scratch and being embarrassed by the complements, but secretly thrilled that we’re happy. Or maybe it’s me taking a drunk and upset friend home to my apartment for some food after a long night, just because I know it will make her feel better. Maybe it’s that first chocolate chip cookie.
Like I said, we may never be able to define this mysterious connection between emotions and food. But maybe like any kind of love, you just know it when you feel it.
28 4 / 2012
Just dreamed this up, although I’m sure it’s been done about a million times. Still, sounds wonderful. I’d love to serve this. What a perfect spring salad!
Asparagus Salad with Deconstructed Hollandaise
- shaved, blanched, chilled asparagus in a lemon vinaigrette, topped with a butter fried egg and sprinkled cayenne and lemon zest.
Perfect spring salad!
12 4 / 2012
Impromptu Savory Pasta Sauce Recipe a.k.a. What Happens When I Start Cooking Without Knowing What I’m Are Actually Making
- Sauce 2 cloves garlic, half of 1 small onion, and 10 chopped button mushrooms with one tablespoon butter on medium high for a few minutes.
- Add 2 anchovies (from a can) and a teaspoon of anchovy oil (also from the can), as well as a small handful of pine nuts and a 6 or 7 capers. Saute for a few more minutes.
- Add 1 tablespoon tomato paste, a teaspoon of basil and a pinch of oregano and pepper, as well as 4 tablespoons chopped sausage (I used kielbasa) and cook on medium for 5 more minutes.
- Lightly blend mixture. I did about 3 or 4 pulses.
- Top pasta and enjoy!
Makes enough sauce for 2 bowls of pasta
I recommend boiling pasta with a dash of salt, olive oil, and some herbs, so that it sucks up more flavor.
My roommates are mad at me for cooking with anchovies… I swear this sauce doesn’t even taste fishy! Just saying…
13 3 / 2012
My Grandmother was a self-made princess. After a humble start in Oklahoma she traveled the world with her military family; from Germany to Hawaii, finally settling near D.C with my Granddad were she taught high school and could visit the Smithsonian museums anytime she wanted. She was graceful and intelligent, with a biting wit and a taste for elegance. With streaks of vanity and immense self confidence, she had the ability to tear you down with a few words. Her expectations were high and her opinions strong, which she always made known. A powerful woman, she never compromised.
She could also be kind. From what I’ve hear about her younger days, and experienced in the elder, she loved entertaining, treating people, sharing her taste for the finer things. Not the kind of grandmother to bake cookies or knit socks, my little sister and I ended up developing tastes for exotic fruits, italian art, and nice clothes. I remember after shopping sprees she would encouraged us girls to put of a fashion show for our parents, in order to show off the purchases of the day. Also to make us feel special. In her house we were always spoiled. I could always tell that that annoyed my penny-pinching Granddad, but he indulged her. Her joys brought him joy in turn.
My Granddad is a quite man. He has few needs, but likes things a certain way. Everything in it’s place. Quality and simplicity. The son of a seamstress and a sculptor, he too chose an artistic path: photography. In fact, he met my grandmother while taking her picture for a beauty pageant she competing in during college, which she won. Of course, she won every pageant she ever did and she was always chosen prom queen or homecoming queen. She was a born winner. I think she impressed him very much. And I think that they balanced each other perfectly. He was, and still is, reliable and well-respected. He was her rock. And he always brought her happiness. “Marry a man who makes you laugh,” she once told me. (She also told me, “Anything for beauty.” I was 7.)
A first generation Italian, my Granddad maintains that nothing in the world is more important than family, of which he loves to remind me whenever I start a fight at a family dinner. “You only get one. You have to cherish them.” The older I get the more I agree with him.
Family dinners have always been a big thing in my life. With my Gandmom’s love of entertaining and my Granddad’s passion for cooking, my first food memories take place in their sunroom. In the house they designed themselves they included a a room that was all windows and nice white patio furniture. It was decorated with well-kept house plants and hand-painted italian china. I loved the painted ceramic birds that hung from the ceiling. They would turn the lights down low, light candles, and play some opera. My Grandfather seemed to be trying to transport us to Italy, and my Grandmom was all for it; she was along for the ride and loved it the whole way through. She would toss the salad and fill the water glasses while he but the final touches on the pasta and plated the crostinis.
The most constant food in my life has been crostinis. The word means “little toast” and they are similar to bruschetta, the Italian appetizer everyone knows. But instead of a simple topping of raw chopped tomatoes and basil with maybe a splash of olive oil, crostinis are elaborate concoctions, the result dozens of ingredients and attentive cooking. My favorite was the mushroom crostinis. I have never in my life tasted anything so wonderful as those simple appetizers of my childhood. In the past I’ve tried to recreate them in my own kitchen, but they were never as rich and bright as my Granddad’s. Only recently, after finally getting my hands on the actual recipe, did I realize the secret is the addition of savory porcini mushrooms and the acidic tang of tomato paste.
After the mixture was generously spread on the toasted and buttered slices of baguette the bright orange grease of the saute would start to seep and mingle with the bread in the most comforting way. I would take a bite, willing the bits of mushrooms to stay in place atop their crunchy vessel, and feel the resistance of the toast. A mellow sweetness would rush in, followed quickly by wave of dark, earthy mushrooms. Not quite chewing, but still with a good bite to them. Those tiny morsels seem to melt into something other than food; like little gems of flavor, complemented by the soothing sensation of firm bread softening as it combines with fat and fungi on your tongue. If I wasn’t stopped I would eat them all, saving no room for the pasta to come.
There were always the chicken liver crostinis as well. Gray and musky. They smelled gamey and strange and were my mother’s favorite. Sometimes I would take a timid bite, but my young taste buds were not prepared. I’ve recently grown to love the strange and intense blend of pungent liver, anchovies, and capers, with little spots of carrots, onions, and celery that bring a bit of lightness to the otherwise overpowering flavors. But I’ll still admit that it can be too much for an unaccustomed pallet. When I cook it myself I add twice as much butter as my Grandfather does in his recipe. I like the extra sweetness and the smoother mouth-feel. Maybe I’m still not ready for the full on power of the flavor of the little gray slabs of liver.
Then the adults would pressure me to have some salad. As a child I always ignored the salads that my Grandmom affectionately constructed to accompany the meals. To this day I am still one to take salads for granted. I’ve never really seen the point of them. As I chef, I understand how to construct a very appetizing salad… but come on. When there are a savory appetizers and a brilliant pasta dish on the same table, why on earth would you waste your appetite on a salad? I’ve never understood the appeal. But I will never forget the smell of dressing and white wine on my Grandmom’s breath. Mingled with her distinctly European perfume, that is how she remains in my memories…
So I always ignored the salad and looked forward to what was next. The pasta I most vividly recall was a ragu that my Granddad referred to simply as “Meat Sauce.” With a tomato base and laced with bits of sweet meat, it was hearty but never heavy. Later on, when my sister and I became vegetarians for a time, he introduced his “Meatless Sauce” which tasted shockingly identical to the original. Eating it you would swear you tasted bits of meaty goodness, but no! All vegetables. It was astounding. I want to make it myself, from his recipe, just to see if I get the same results, or if it’s some kind of cooking magic only he possesses.
Over the years my Granddad has recorded his recipes, original and adapted, into The Pertini Cookbook. From simple olive oil roasted asparagus to his traditional biscotti recipe (which took him years of testing to perfect) this book covers all the bases and has been a sort of family secret. My Grandmom was adamant about not sharing it outside of the family. She was proud of pages, and a little paranoid I think. Only a handful of people outside the family have been gifted those recipes. I only just recently received it this past Christmas. I suppose because I want to cook for a living it’s only right. So now I can try and replicate the flavors of my life. The tastes of my family dinners are all there, printed and put into a three-ring binder, with the family crest on the cover. It was my grandparents who sparked my love of food. They showed me the importance of dinner itself. It’s not all about the food, even thought the food was amazing. The setting places a role too. The opera playing in the background and a light breeze finding it’s way into the sunroom to tickle the candles. But what was truly important and what stands out most in those memories is the feeling of belonging. It’s the contentment of being taken care of and surrounded by the people who would do anything for you. It’s the family.
Now my Grandmother is gone. My Granddad now lives with the rest of the family up in Maine. He doesn’t cook much anymore. I wish he would. But I think it made him happy to share the family cookbook with me. And I think he is proud that I’ve chosen a career in cooking. These days, when I’m up in Maine for a visit, we have a different version of those old dinners. My mom and I spend hours making lobster stew. I love ripping the chunks of meat out of the shells, watching as the broth turns practically fluorescent orange, taking in the sweet aroma of the cream and butter. My Granddad might rub some garlic on toasted bread and toss a salad of his own dressing concoction. He pours himself a big glass of red white as I take the chilled white over to the table and light the candles. And we all sit down together. We toast, “Alla famiglia!” To the family.
21 2 / 2012
Chickpeas are good for you. Beets are good for you. Combine them? SO good for you. And so tasty! I could eat this stuff with a spoon.
- one can chickpeas, drained
- half a can of beets, drained (reserved one tablespoon beet juice)
- three tablespoons olive oil
- one clove fresh garlic, minced
- cumin, paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper
In a medium sized pot or large pan saute garlic in olive oil on medium for a few minutes. Add chickpeas, beets, and reserved beet juice and simmer for 5 minutes. Add a teaspoon of cumin, a dash of paprika, and a dash of chili powder, cover and cook for ten minutes. Blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil is texture is too dry!
07 2 / 2012
Once upon a time Fresh Side was my favorite lunch spot in Amherst. I’d bring everyone: friends, dates, even my parents. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed, with the orange walls and indoor plants, but still nice enough to feel like you’re dinning somewhere special. In the past, I never found the service or the food distasteful. But after my last few visits, I don’t know if I’ll be back again any time soon.
When I arrived for lunch last Friday I ended up standing in the doorway for five minutes wondering whether or not I was expected to seat myself; there was no sign to indicate either way. Eventually I had to walk up to a waiter and ask. He said, “Yeah, sit anywhere.” After having been seated for over ten minutes, and ready to order for another five minutes, I was eventually graced with the waiter’s presence, finally baring water for the table. I was parched after that long wait.
Fresh Side has an extensive tea selection, most range from $3.00-$6.00 for a pot, about the size of one and a half mugs of tea, but served in a small earthen-wear pot and sake-glass sized cup. I always order the same tea, the goji berry with date honey, because the first time I tasted it it blew me away. The slight bitterness of the berries with the warm sweetness of the date honey is always a lovely experience. On this particular Friday the tea tasted as good as usual, but was barely lukewarm. Strike two.
In an attempt to stray away from my usual menu choices (miso soup with a variety of tea roll, which are almost always a safe choice, although the wrapper is sometimes stale) I ordered the mushroom egg-drop soup, as well as the only pork dish on their menu: the pork ribs with rice and veggies.
Thankfully, the soup came to me steaming hot. It did not have the sliminess which hinders so many egg-drop soups, but the flavor was nothing more than a basic beef broth. The mushrooms which floated around the bowl were chewy and bitter, not what I was expecting from an otherwise delicate soup. I only ate half of it before sending it away with the waiter.
The pork dish was also far from my expectations. Nestled under the “Rice” category on the menu, this dish was nothing more than a large mound of white rice with a few chunks of poorly butchered, horribly seasoned, overcooked pork ribs, on the the bone, or rather: on little shards of bone that I had to carefully avoid swallowing. This dish not only disappointed me, but confused me. If you’re going to serve a pork and rice dish why do “ribs”? They were hardly even ribs to begin with! It would be a massive improvement, and probably be even cheaper, if they were to buy some pork shoulder, braise it, chop it up, and mix it in with the rice! Then it would actually be a “rice dish”! I don’t know who they were trying to impress with those poor excuses for ribs, but it wasn’t me. And to throw some salt in the wound, the whole mess came on a plate that was way too small for the amount of food; a common trend at Fresh Side, and a huge pet-peeve to many chefs and foodies.
The one saving grace of the meal was the side of mixed veggies that sat next to the mountain of rice. Cooked to a satisfying al dente and seasoned well, they were lovely. But if the one thing you can complement is their vegetable cookery… well, I think that says something.
01 2 / 2012
I feel like a traitor. High Horse has just opened up their kitchen in the space that not too long ago was occupied by my employers, Amherst Brewing Company. And while High Horse isn’t really our competition (ABC is already such an Amherst institution, and The High Horse’s menu is on the pricey side) one of the biggest complains I hear is that people miss the old space. It is pretty clear that people are already comparing High Horse to ABC, if only because of location.
I secretly wanted High Horse’s food to be a disappointment, but after a cook friend who works there told me a little about the menu I was intrigued. “We grind all our own meat for the burgers,” he told me, “And we really focus on seasonal vegetables! You have to try the beets. I never liked beets before!”
The next day I dragged my boyfriend with me to High Horse. The kind of guy who would be content eating Taco Bell everyday, he is not a fan of fine dinning, but I figured that High Horse might actually be the kind of place he would enjoy. The interior is elegant, but also very edgy, and somehow still cozy. It maintains a casual atmosphere. High Horse doesn’t seem to be trying too hard, while still managing to impress; a theme which continued throughout the meal.
After ordering our beer, of which they have a very satisfying selection, my companion suggested that we order the Chips and Dip. I was unimpressed, mainly because of the cheese they topped the chips with. Swiss maybe, or a sharp cheddar; not to my taste. My boyfriend happened to love it. What I did like was their homemade sour cream. High Horse prides themselves on their selection of dipping sauces, and for good reason. I absolutely loved the garlic and white bean dip which we ordered to accompany our sweet potato fries, which were themselves disappointing. Soggy, without even a hint of the crisp exterior one craves when ordering fries, they were a let down. The burger was also unimpressive. Smaller than you would receive at any other brew pubs, it did have great flavor and was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, but suffered from charred edges. For 11 dollars, it wasn’t much to write home about.
My trout dish, on the other hand, was the picture of perfection. From flavor to presentation, it was a fantastic dish. The trout was perfectly cooked, seasoned with sage, rosemary, and lemon. I also detected a slightly smoky flavor, which confused me, as I know it came off of the saute station. Quietly placed next to the fish was a dollop of pureed celery; something I had never tried before. The subtlety bright flavor complemented the fish perfectly. On the other side of the plate sat an alternation row of roasted carrots and beets, and next to it a small mound of sauteed swiss chard. The presentation, while lovely, was also a clear suggestion from the chef to eat these components together. The earthy sweetness of the carrots and beets, with the mild bitterness of the greens, the herby flavors of the fish, united by the light tang of the celery, it was an expertly composed dish. Every flavor and texture complemented the other. Needless to say, I was impressed.
But the meal didn’t end there. My boyfriend insisted we try the chocolate cake. I’m not a fan of chocolate, but I conceded. The cake itself was very good; super rich, with the flavor of good quality dark chocolate. It came with a little cloud of whipped cream to mellow out the flavor, but the real start of the dessert was the burnt sugar garnish. With the taste of caramel and a satisfying crunch, I found myself incorporating it into every bite of cake I took. The flavors lingered long after we left the restaurant. My boyfriend and I turned to each other more than once to reminisce about the meal we had had only moments earlier. “That was really fantastic! So good. I’m so glad we did this.”
Although High Horse seems to be having a bit of trouble with some of the pub classics, such as the burger and fries, they shine in other ways. With high quality ingredients and perfectly balanced flavor profiles, the intentions of the chef come though in the form of thoughtful execution. I’m looking forward tasting more of the menu… and hoping the fries improve.
31 1 / 2012
Cut garlic head in half longways, in order to expose both halves of
the flower. Remove outermost layer of skin. Place halves in tin fold,
wrapped around the garlic to keep it upright. Pour olive oil into each
half until totally saturated. Lightly salt and roast on 350 for 20-30
minutes or until cloves are soft.
Serve with buttered toast. Goes very well with a cheese plate!