Wednesday, August 31, 2011

(More) Transforming Prepared Foods

Turkey Chili Makeover

This week seems to be "dress up prepared foods" week.  On Monday I beefed up bottled marinara and last night I dressed up Citarella's Turkey Chili.  When you're a challenged cook, or even a good cook who is tired after a day's work, there's nothing wrong with adding your own touches to prepared foods to make them seem more like home made.  Last night's dinner was no exception.  I love Citarella's packaged turkey chili, but I like to add to it so it's a complete meal.  Here's what I did:  I put a bowl of the chili in the microwave and heated for 4 minutes.  When it was done I took about a half cup of Birds Eye frozen peas, put them in a microwave safe bowl with two tablespoon of water and heated for about 30 seconds.  When they were done I put them on top of the chili, added about a tablespoon of banana peppers from a jar, and microwaved for 20 seconds.  This way it was a complete meal and looked and tasted great.  You know me and lemon - I squeezed half a lemon on top and put the lemon on top and chopped some spring onions for a nice presentation.

Less is More!

I was really hungry last night.  Usually a half of the container of the chili fills me up, but not last night.  Instead of just blindly finishing off the entire container, I put about half in a smaller bowl, again with the peas and hot peppers.  This way it looked like a full serving and I didn't stuff myself with food I really didn't need or want.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene Part II

Off in the distance is a sight I've never seen - the GW Bridge without a single car or truck crossing. All the bridges and tunnels were closed and the NYC Subway shut down for the first time in history

For the lucky residents of the Upper West Side, Hurricane Irene only amounted to a heavy rain storm.  The New Jersey Shore and Long Island didn't get off as easily.  There was massive flooding, trees down and many residents lost their power - some are still in the dark. 

A little hurricane humor from a Salumeria di Rosi with windows taped to guard against the winds (86 in restaurants means "off the menu". )  Despite the lame joke - Salumeria di Rosi is exquisite.  They have only the finest products to take home or to enjoy there - they have wonderful small plates

Weekend lunch

On Sunday day two of making the most of my haul from the West Side Market was underway.  I had purchased some hero brioche rolls and made tuna sandwiches.  I used low fat mayonaisse, extra virgin olive oil, champagne vinegar and I spiced things up with banana peppers (from a jar) and some fresh basil that I found in my vegetable crisper in the fridge - I bought it the previous weekend at the Farmers Market but I salvaged a few leaves.  I got the Bumble Bee tuna packed in water.  I'd rather control the amount of oil going in and, besides, it tastes much better fresh.

Whitecaps on the Hudson

After lunch Hubbell and I were getting a bit stir crazy so we took a walk along Riverside Park.  The picture above really doesn't capture the scene.  It's rare that there are white caps in the Hudson River.  The tug boat and ferry boat in the picture were being tossed about as if they were toys.

Hubbell was a trooper even though walking in the wind was an uphill battle!

Normally on a Sunday afternoon in August the Boat Basin Café would be packed

Hubbell and I weren't the only ones out for a walk - the Basin is one of the few restaurants in NYC that allows dogs

This plant at the Basin emerged unscathed

A ghost town on what would normally be an insanely busy day at the Basin

Pasta dinner on Monday

For dinner I grabbed the bottle of Lydia Bastianch's marinara.  I dressed it up a bit by chopping fresh garlic and grilling it in a touch of extra virgin olive oil.  First I grilled cherry tomatoes and after they started to carmelize, I added the garlic  and after a minute or two tossed in fresh squeezed lemon juice, a bit of Tabasco sauce and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes to give it a kick. Next, I emptied the bottle of marinara into the pan.  Lydia's marinara is good straight out of the bottle but it's fun to add touches to make the sauce your own.  There are turkey meatballs as well - I'll post that recipes for the meatballs and my own marinara in the near future.

I tried Giada De Laurentis's Fusilli - this is one of the best pasta to come from a box that I've ever tried.  Giada is not only beautiful - her recipes and products are the best

Sunday at dusk on the Upper West Side as the last of Irene blows out of town

For the Tuna Sandwich


1 can Albacore tuna in water (I use Bumble Bee but for a real treat try imported tuna in a jar - which only comes in oil)
2 tablespoons low fat mayonaisse (though use the real stuff if you prefer)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon champagne vinegar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3 - 4 fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons banana peppers (or jalepenos if you like it really spicey)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons cole slaw
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


Drain water from can of tuna - open can and press down firmly with the can upside down.  Remove lid and discard.
Put tuna in a bowl and add all of the ingredients except the basil and banana peppers; mix well being careful not to break or mash the tuna.  Place the basil leaves one on top of the other and roll up like a cigar.  Julienne using kitchen shears.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. (I put the can of tuna in the fridge when I get home from the store rather than storing in the cupboard.)
I had some left over cole slaw that I lined the bottom of the brioche hero role.  Next add the tuna mixture and garnish with the peppers and basil.  Sprinkle red pepper flakes on top and squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top

For the Marinara

1 jar marinara sauce - I used Lydia Bastianich's but Mario Batalli's is also very good
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 - 4 dashes Tabasco Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste


Pre-heat non-stick frying pan (I use my trusty Le Creuset).
Carefully add oil and allow to heat for a minute or so.
Add sliced cherry tomatoes and cook stirring frequently until they start to carmelize.
Add sliced garlic cloves.
As garlic starts to brown, add lemon juice, red pepper flakes, Tabasco, salt and pepper - stir the mixture for approximately 30 seconds.
Add the jar of marinara and salt and pepper.  Mix well and heat until marinara starts to bubble.
Turn off heat, cover and allow to sit.  Ideally you will prepare this earlier in the day and let it sit on the stovetop until you're ready to boil the fussilli - or your pasta of choice.  Add the prepared turkey meatballs so all the flavors can marry throughout the afternoon.
As pasta is boiling I re-heat the marinara.
If you make a large amount, reserve some in a separate bowl.  Using a spider drain the fussilli and add right into the pay with remaining marinara - mix well and serve.
I grate parmasan at the last minute and give it another stir.  You may want to add more parmasan after you transfer mixture to bowl.
Serve immediately and enjoy!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Cuisine

Line around the block at the market on Saturday morning - even the delis had lines

Since I've been in the habit of shopping each day for that evening's dinner, I was caught off guard when Hurricane Irene came to town.  All of the markets started to get jammed with customers starting on Friday afternoon.  I had dinner out on Friday night at Café Luxembourg so I was covered for that night but the weekend was another matter.  I even tried shopping on the way home from dinner but there were still lines around the block - even at 11 PM!

Happier Times: Lobster Salad with Mango at Café Luxembourg Friday Night

Shop Owners their windows in preparation for Irene

I woked up early on Saturday morning and went shopping at 6:30 AM.  The good news is that there were no lines.  The bad news is that the shelves were practically stripped bare.  This was West Side Market and I don't trust their fish.  But I found a bottle of Lydia Bastianich's marinara and I found a whole organic chicken which knew would be good for a couple of meals.  I also bought some cold cuts, a few cans of tuna in water and bottled water.

Trussing is not my forté but I managed!

Intially I thought I'd just cover the chicken in barbecue sauce and roast it, but then I remembered a delicous recipe from Chef Bobo.  The recipe calls for you to sautée the chicken in a frying pan. 

Before yousautée the chicken you dry it off - I used plenty of paper towels.  Next, you season the bird.  The market was completely out of my usual standbys like chopped rosemary, basil and tyme.  All I had in the fridge was garlic and lemons.  I put plenty of salt and pepper in the cavity and on the outside.  I cut up a lemon and put it in the cavity.  Next, I took a garlic mincer and had at it.  The garlic was very large and fresh and I  minced the garlic into a paste.  I added a little extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.  I put the minced garlic under the skin, making sure that it didn't rip.  Next you truss the chicken by putting the wings under the bird and tying the legs and wings tightly to the body.  Cover the skin with the extra virgin olive oil.  You don't want too much oil in the pan.  Note the 1/4 oil is for the bird, the garlic and the pan.  

Next you put the trussed chicken in a pre-heated pan with extra virgin olive oil and a pat of butter.  Brown on all sides - be sure to get the sides as the dark meat takes longer to cook.  All you're doing is browning.  You will finish off the chicken in the oven. 

Here's the finished product after it comes out of the oven.  After grilling on the stovetop roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 - 40 minutes.  When you sautee on the stovetop first it creates a golden crust and seals in the juices.

Here's the finished producted.  I had some broccoli in the fridge and some tomatoes which I roasted along with the chicken.  The pan juices made a delicious gravy.  And there was plenty left over for Sunday night dinner.

I'll post more about the hurricane weekend tomorrow.


1 medium sized organic chicken
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
1 - 2 pats room temperature butter
Salt & pepper to taste


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Pre-heat oven safe, non-stick frying pan (I used my Le Creuset)
Add oil and butter to the pan - don't overdo it - use 1 - 2 tablespoons tops; if you put too much oil in the pan the skin will burn off
Dry chicken using paper towels
Season chicken inside and out with salt and pepper
Peel garlic and mince using a sharp knife or a mincer until it develops a paste-like consistency
Transfer garlic to a small plate and douse with oil; add salt and pepper to taste
Fill cavity with lemon slices
Smear garlic past under the skin of the bird being careful to keep the skin intact and not to tear it
Truss bird by folding wings underneath; wrap oven-proof string under the wings up to the drumsticks tying them close and tightly to the body
Sautée in pre-heated frying pan until golden brown on all sides
Transfer to 350 degree pre-heated oven for 30 - 40 minutes

Thanks to Chef Bobo for the delicious recipe!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes

My mother was a wonderful cook but she had this thing about keeping her recipes a secret - including from me, even though we were very close.  Unfortunately, she passed away without giving me a single recipe.  However, I remember this dish and when I cook it, I think of her.

The Ingredients

The ingredients are pretty simple - eggplant and plum tomatoes plus salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil.  My mother grated tons of fresh parmasan cheese on top before roasting.  I skip the parmasan when the eggplant is a side dish for salmon, which I did last night, and branzino as I did the night before.  The branzino and salmon had Mediterranean oregano sprinkled on top, so I incorporated oregano in the eggplant this time.  I've used herbes de provence, too.  It's nice to add a little color.

First, you cut the top off the eggplant  the cut in half length-wise.  Score a checkerboard pattern on top, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.  (This creates bite-sized chunks which are easier to extract from the eggplant.) I take the knife and scrape away some of the seeds on the surface.

Next, take plum tomatoes and slice.  Plum tomatoes are pretty bland if you eat them raw, but roasting them really enhances their flavor.  They are also the perfect size to fit on the eggplant.  I think my mother used regular sized tomatoes so feel free to substitute if you wish.

Roast in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  I bought a pretty big eggplant and couldn't eat the whole thing on Wednesday night.  So I stored half in tupperware and put it in the fridge until I was ready to serve it with last night's dinner.

When heating up left over eggplant I squeeze fresh lemon juice on top to revive it and reheat in a 300 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Here's the eggplant fresh out of the oven on Wednesday night

Last night's dinner: Grilled Salmon and Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes

If you're vegan, this eggplant dish could make a nice main course - perhaps with roasted asparagus on the side?  I will recreate some other dishes that I remember my mother made in future posts.  She would have been aghast back in the day if I shared her recipes.  Today, I think it's a nice way to honor her memory.  Love and miss you, Mom.


1 medium eggplant
3 medium plum tomatoes per eggplant
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Mediterranean oregano or herbes de provence (optional)
  or 1/2 cup grated fresh parmasan


Pre-heat oven at 400 degrees
Cut top off eggplant, then slice length-wise
Score eggplant in a checkerboard pattern, about 1/4 - 1/2 inch deep
Drizzle oil on top of both eggplant halves
Slice plum tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste
Arrange tomatoes on top of both eggplant halves; drizzle with remaining olive oil
Sprinkle oregano or herbes de provence and/or the parmasan evenly on tomatoes over both halves
Place in oven proof casserole dish or pan (I use my Le Creuset with the non-stick surface)
Roast for 20 - 30 minutes
Serve immediately and enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Charred, Roasted Branzino!

I had never heard of branzino before my trip to the Amalfi Coast.  It's a Mediterranean sea bass.  I suppose if you blind folded me and did a taste test between branzino and, say, Chilean sea bass, I may not be able to differentiate between the two.  But I love anything Mediterranean so I'll go with branzino any day.  My favorite way to prepare it is to char it on the outside and then transfer it to the oven and roast to perfection.

First I cover the branzino with extra virgin olive oil.  I season the cavity with sea salt, sliced lemon and Mediterranean oregano.  If I'm serving with the fennel, red onion and tomato side dish, I add the fennel fronds to the cavity.  I don't put oil in the cast iron skillet.  When experimenting with this recipe I put oil in the pan and the skin peeled off.  My cast iron skillet is well seasoned - so it doesn't need oil - but if you're using a new pan or one that isn't seasoned, try using Pam or a similar cooking spray. 

I found Mediterranean Oregano at the store - it has a lemony flavor

Next I seal the fish for easier cooking and to keep the lemons inside the cavity.  Last night was the first night I laced up the fish - I was reaching for the oregano and saw the turkey lacer package and a light bulb went off in my head.  Not only does lacing the fish closed keep the lemons securely in the cavity, it also makes it easier to stand the fish up when going from stovetop to oven (more on that later).

Who'd have thunk?

As always, heat the pan over medium heat for 10 minutes before cooking.  You should use a cast iron skillet with the lines so you get the grill marks - it's worth the investment to get one - I use mine all the time.  Some people have one for fish and one for meat, but I just have the one (though I haven't cooked meat in quite some time - I am phasing out red meat except for special occasions (see Summer in the City post).

The perfect char

Grill the branzino for about 5 minutes on each side.  Keep an eye on it and flip when you see those great grill marks.

I used my fan, opened the window and lit a candle - though branzino doesn't create too much of an odor

When you've grilled both sides give the branzino a minute or two to cool, then stand it up.  This way that great charred skin will remain intact.  If you roast with one side down the skin will peel off on that side.

Roast in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes

A great side dish is roasted fennel and red onion.  I put in the cast iron skilled for a few minutes each side to get the grill marks.  As a general rule, fennel and onion go great with fish.

I transfer the fennel and red onion to my Le Creuset oven safe pan and roast for 20 minutes - which works out perfectly time-wise.  The branzino is on the stovetop for 10 minutes and roasts for 10 minutes. I add sliced cherry tomatoes when I transfer the pan to the oven.

Et Viola!  The branzino is fork tender

Last night I had eggplant and tomato on the side instead of the roasted fennel, red onions and tomatoes.  I will post the eggplant recipe tomorrow.  This dish may look a little intimidating but once you get the hang of it you'll be amazed at how easy it is to roast your own fish.  Be sure to tell the fish monger that you're roasting the branzino when you ask him to clean it.  Otherwise you may end up with filets.

Note: when the branzino is roasted, tilt the head back, snap it off and find the spine.  Carefully lift the spine away from the fish.  Pull it out with confidence - be steady - it will peel right off.  These are the only bones to worry about. Cut the tail off.  Don't think about removing that great charred skin!


1 medium branzino per person
1 lemon, sliced
1 tablespoon Mediterranean oregano (or regular oregano if you can't find Mediterranean)
1 fennel bulb (you can stuff some of the fennel fronds into the cavity of the branzino, too)
1 small to medium red onion
1/2 cut sliced cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste


For the fennel, red onion and tomato mixture

Cut stems off of the fennel, and cut the bulb into quarters; reserve fronds for branzino cavity
Chop onion into quarters
Cover with 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Grill on cast iron skillet for a few minutes on each side
Roast in 400 degree for 20 minutes

For the Branzino

Rinse the branzino
Cover branzino with the olive oil, rub over branzino covering all surfaces
Season cavity with oregano, sliced lemon and sea salt (and fennel fronds if serving this side dish)
Using turkey lacer, sew the cavity shut
Place branzino in the cast iron skillet, cooking for 3 - 5 minutes on each side
Let cool for a minute or two
Stand the branzino up in the pan
Transfer to the 400 degree oven and roast for 10 minutes
Serve over fennel, onion and tomato mixture

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Summer in the City

Last night my dog Hubbell and I had a date to meet his two girlfriends, Lahtke and Chavi, and their mothers, Deb and Julie, at the Pier in Riverside Park.  Hubbell usually will walk as far as the curb in front of our building for his nightly constitutional, but brilliant dog that he is, when I said "Chavi! Lahtke!" in the apartment he started chasing his tail and couldn't get out of the apartment fast enough.

It might not have only been love of his friends that had him scurrying down the street towards the park.  He knows that this is a dinner date and he and I would split a cheese burger, fries and a hot dog (though I had to scrape off the sauerkraut off of his half of the hot dog). 

It's self service and the lines can be long but it's worth the wait.  The food - while not on the usual Skinny Guy menu - is pretty good and reasonably priced.  The hamburger, hot dog and a Corona were $20 plus tipping the counter gal.  You grab a table where you can find one and drink in the beautiful views of the majestic Hudson River. 

The pier and grounds along the Hudson River have been rebuilt and replanted and look beautiful.  There are still vestiges of the Hudson River of yesteryear including an abandoned building just off the shore that looks like it was a loading dock of sorts - all in all a nice melding of the old and the new.

The dogs were so excited I couldn't get them to stand still for a picture.  They have been friends since they were puppies - the three of them met in the Riverside Park dog run.  Julie, Deb and I have been along for the ride.

Hubbell was tuckered out today after his night on the town

It's hard to believe that today is August 24th already and summer is drawing to a close.  Though technically we have about a month left.  The fall equinox is September 23rd at 5:05 AM. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Easy Dinner

I wanted something quick and easy for dinner last night - so in the morning I took out a tuna burger out of the freezer to defrost.  I placed it on the kitchen counter - I wasn't sure how long it would take - the burger is pretty substantial.  But a lunch when I took my dog Hubbell for a quick walk the burger was defrosted so I put it in the fridge for the afternoon.  When I got home I popped it in the freezer so it wouldn't all apart while it was cooking.

I roasted vegetables to go on the side.  Both the tuna burger and roasted vegetable recipes are on the blog already.  Here's the link for the tuna burger  For the roasted vegetables - use your favorite veggie - brussell sprouts, asparagus or last night I used broccoli.  Put 2 tablespoons of oil - you can use canola oil to save money - mix in thorought and add tomatoes - I use plum tomatoes cut in half, scapes, 2 cloves of crushed fresh garlic and I cut up a lemon and added it to the mix.  Roast for 20 minutes - tossing the mixture at 10 minutes (except the tomatoes).

I grilled the tuna burger for 3 - 5 minutes on each side in my trusty cast iron skillet.  Again, pre-heat the skillet over a medium flame for a good 10 minutes.  Let it rest for a minute or two when done.

The tuna burger almost looks like a hamburger - but they taste like delicious tuna and they freeze really well.  You don't have that stuffed feeling when dinner is over as you do with traditional hamburgers.  And it was a nice change to have broccoli for a change - they really roast beautifully.  And this way at least half of the dinner is prepared fresh - though you'd never guess I defrosted the tuna.

Pour yourself a little glass of wine and it's dinner!  Invest in nice wine glasses - I use the over-sized goblet sized - they're more attractive than the short ones.  Next time you make tuna burgers - get a little extra and make a few extra burgers so you can freeze some for future use.