Archive | November, 2010

Olive Oil Cake

22 Nov

It wasn’t until about 5:30 last Thursday night that I realized I had NO DESSERT for the risoto party.

I had wine.  I had risotto. Bread and cheese.  Veggies.

But, no dessert.

I had remembered hearing a lot about olive oil cake and thought I would throw one together.

And throw it together–I did.

This couldn’t have been any easier and it tasted delicious.

A dense cake with a hint of orange and just a taste of sweetness.

Olive Oil Cake

Adapted from Savuer

Prep Time 10 min

Cook Time: 40 min

1 tablespoon butter for greasing
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
4 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoons orange extract (You can use  Grand Marnier or something if you have it.)

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease bundt pan with butter and dust with flour. Set prepared pan aside.

2. Beat eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for a couple of minutes.

3.  Add remaining 3 cups flour, lemon zest, oil, milk, and orange extract and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add baking powder and stir until thoroughly combined.

4. Spoon batter into bundt pan and smooth out top with the back of the spoon.

5.  Bake until cake is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

6.  Let cool completely in its pan.

7.  I sprinkled a bit of powdered sugar on top and surrounded the whole thing with a ton of pomegranete.  If I would have had homemade whipped cream–it would have made it all better.


NYC Restaurant Review: Curry Dream

21 Nov

We (my sister and I ) love Indian food and were so happy to find “Curry Dream” very close to our hotel in NYC.

The kids walked in and were thrilled to be in a fancy restaurant.  They determined that it was a fancy restaurant  because of the glass goblets for water and the cloth napkins.  Their standards are pretty low.

And because we were in the city and our motto was to “Be adventurous” they were willing to try more on the menu than normal.

We really did it up with Samosas, Naan, Dall Makani, and Alu Gobi–a spiced mixture of califlower and potatoes.  Let me just tell you that it was all excellent.  The onion chutney served with the samosas was amazing.  Even Little One was eating it—and she is not a fan of onions.

We also ordered a chicken dish for my kids—-Rasmi Malai Kabab which is described as cubes of chicken marinated in yogurt and cream cheese and then grilled.  The Bean LOVED it and couldn’t slow himself down.  It was not spicy but had a unique flavor that he loved.  He is still talking about it.

Everything was so good.  We left nothing uneaten.

The kids were so full–they were in pain.  Delicious pain.

Oh, the wait staff was incredibly patient with us and very kind.  We were the only family in the restaurant and even got a comment about how well behaved our children are. Ha!  If they had only seen us a few minutes earlier.

Curry Dream

66 W 39th St New York, NY 10018

Tel: 212-810-4125

Risotto Party: Four Recipes, One Night

20 Nov

The challenge:  Compare  four different varieties of Italian risotto rice.

The issues:
1) In order to compare the varieties, I would have to prepare them.
2) Risotto preparation is kind of time consuming.
3) After our trip to NYC, the deadline to finish the review was coming up quickly.  I wasn’t sure there was enough time left to actually complete the task.

What to do?

Have a risotto party!

At first, I was hesitant to pitch the idea to some of my friends….I wanted to invite them over to eat but felt a bit guilty for giving them an assignment as part of their dinner.

However, they are all love food and any chance to get together and drink wine.  Luckily, they agreed to the challenge.

The week prior was spent delivering risotto samples, researching  recipes, and buying wine.

Thursday night, (a school night!) they all came over and we had a risotto feast.  (Including a really delicious olive oil cake–recipe coming soon.)

It was so fun to see what each of them came up with and all of the risottos were very different.

The contestants:

Risotto #1:  The purple blob.

Rice: Marx Foods Italian Carnaroli rice

Recipe:  Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Spring Green Risotto

This risotto was not pretty.  Actually, it was a very pretty color—it just looked like a gelatinous blob.  In case you are wondering, the purple came from the addition of red wine instead of white.  According to Marx Foods website, this rice tends to hold its shape better than arborio rice and offers better liquid absorption.  Supposedly, this rice will yield a creamier risotto than other varieties.  And, this one was very creamy.

Comments:    “If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t eat this.”

“Why is it purple?”

“What is that flavor?”

Risotto #2:  The healthy risotto.


Rice:  Marx Foods Organic Italian Arborio
Recipe:  Chef’s creation with lots of spinach and a ton of garlic.

Comments:  “Maybe it needs more salt.”

“Wow, very garlic-y!”

This is the type of rice that is normally used for risotto and just as suspected, the results were a creamy rice porridge.

Risotto #3:   The professional risotto.

Rice:  Marx Foods Vialone Nano Rice

Recipe:  Chef’s creation including asparagus, leek, sundried tomato and goat cheese.

For risotto #3, the chefs followed the basic recipes for preparing a risotto complete with toasting the rice and slowly adding the broth.  They completed the dish by adding asparagus, leek, sundried tomato and goat cheese.  This risotto was dryer than the others and the rice grains were separate.

Comments:  “This looks like what a risotto is supposed to look like.”
“This is the most professional looking of the risottos”

According to the Marx Foods website, this variety of rice and the Carnaroli are thought to make better risotto than the traditional arborio.  Vialone Nano rice absorbs liquid more quickly which is likely why this risotto was a bit dryer than the others.

Risotto #4:  The meat risotto.

Rice:  Marx Food’s Italian Integrale rice

Recipe:  Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Comments:  “This could be a meal on its own.”

“Too tomato-y”

“The rice is slightly hard”

The Integrale rice is a whole grain Italian brown rice.  Following the traditional recipes for risotto resulted in a rice that was slightly undercooked.  Other recipes using this variety may need to use more liquid.

Our mission:

Our original intention was to compare the different risotto rice and determine if one variety was better than another.  However, that was difficult to do given that each chef chose a different recipe and have different levels of culinary skills.

For example:

Did risotto #1 turn gelatinous because it was prepared the day before and re-heated?  Or was it the starchiness of the rice?

Did risotto #4 taste slightly undercooked because it was a wheat grain or because of the novice cooking skills of the chef?

Did risotto #3 have nicely separated grains due to the type of risotto or because the chefs toasted the rice?

Risotto #2 looked like a typical risotto—like soupy rice—was that due to the preparation or the fact that the chef received the typical arborio rice?

If we had all prepared the same recipe, we may have been able to do a better comparison of the various rice types—but it would have been so much less fun.  However, the rice did behave as described on the Marx Foods website.


Since we weren’t really able to judge the different rice types –we just decided which risottos we enjoyed the taste of the most.

And the winner was………..

The purple blob.

Are you surprised?  I was–I have to admit I was a little bit afraid to try it but it had such a great flavor–likely due to the large amount of lemon zest and the marscapone cheese.

The runner up was:

The professional risotto.  It had great flavors, looked pretty and contained goat cheese.  How can you go wrong with goat cheese?

The healthy risotto and the meat risotto received honorable mention.

Interestingly, the two winners used the type of rice that Marx Foods describes as  Italian’s choice for the best risotto.

Great job contestants!

Thanks to Marx Foods for supplying us with risotto samples and to everyone for agreeing to make risotto.  Special thanks to the kids (all 7 of them!) for not killing each other while we ignored them.

Bakery Review: Ferrara Bakery & Cafe, Little Italy, NYC

18 Nov

I really don’t want to write this post.

I don’t want to tell you to go to this bakery in Little Italy.

We had planned to get to Chinatown early so that we could have some dim sum for breakfast before our flight.  We didn’t realize that none of the restaurants and bakeries would be open until at least 9 am.    We were tourists  and we wanted to get a jump on our day.

The kids were so wiped out that they could barely make a sound.  They were angels.

We had quiet and hungry kids.  We wanted to spend some money.

Yet, our server had such an attitude.  The only attitude we received while in NYC.

The service was just plain terrible. Our server  made it perfectly clear that she did not want us there.

So, I had planned to write this review about her attitude and warning you against visiting this bakery in Little Italy.

But, I can’t.

See that croissant on the top left?  It was amazing.    I don’t even like croissants and I can’t stop thinking about the chocolate croissant we shared.  The cookies were great.  The coffee delicious.  The biscotti perfect.

If I were in NYC, I would go back.  I would deal with rudeness just to eat that croissant again.

From the reviews I have read, there are likely other more intimate bakeries in Little Italy and I was not alone in complaining about the service.   Supposedly, at other times of day tourists line up at Ferraras  for cannolis and gelato.  But, when we arrived they had exactly what we needed–plenty of available tables, clean bathrooms and hot coffee.

And the best chocolate croissant I have ever tasted.

Who cares if the server didn’t like us?

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe

195 Grand Street
between Mulberry & Mott St.
(212) 226-6150

Roasted Kabocha

15 Nov

Do you ever get tired of junk food? Like, really just craving colorful vegetables and healthy choices? That is exactly how I felt after our long weekend in NYC. We tried to make sure that we had at least cupcakes and pizza everyday—and it really took a toll on our bodies.

Roasted Kabocha is the perfect solution for a junk food detox.

Kabocha is also called Japanese Pumpkin and is nothing like our pumpkins. It has a green peel–that you eat–giving you fiber and greens. The inside is bright orange and filled with vitamins.  I have seen it in most grocery stores and the organic market.  If you don’t see it in your regular grocery store, try an Asian specialty store.

When I lived in Japan, my favorite thing to order at the markets were Kabocha Croquettes—basically a pumpkin patty covered with a Panko crust and deep fried. I need to figure out how to make those.  But not today.  Today we want healthy.

This recipe is simple, healthy and delicious. A perfect cure to the winter time blues.

Roasted Kabocha (with Truffle Salt)

1 Kabocha pumpkin
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
Sprinkle of Truffle Salt

1. Cut the Kabocha in half and scoop out the seeds. Put them in your compost pile.

2. Cut into slices about 1/2 inch thick. The pumpkin is pretty difficult to cut into but use your sharpest knife and you should be OK.
3. In a shallow baking dish, arrange the slices of pumpkin so they are not touching. Sprinkle with the olive oil and toss around to make sure everything is covered.
4. Sprinkle with the truffle salt.
5. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

6. Serve with Fennel Pollen Chicken with Pasta or any other wholesome dinner.

By the way, I have a little post over at the Marx Foods Blog that has my recipe for the Fennel Pollen Chicken Pasta. If you have time, I would appreciate you visiting the site and voting for me. Thanks!

Hotel Review: Hilton Garden Inn, W 35th St, NYC

14 Nov

As soon as I had heard that I made it into the NYC Marathon (through the lottery), I started looking into hotels. I knew NYC hotels were expensive and due to the marathon, would be in demand even more than at other times of the year. So, about nine months before the big day I began searching for hotels based on a bunch of specific criteria.

I wanted to be fairly close to the NYC marathon finish–as I knew after running 26.2 miles, I wouldn’t want to walk far. I also wanted to be close to the New York Public Library because the marathon buses would pick up there to get the runners to the start line. I wanted to be within walking distance of the Javitz Center–the home of the NYC marathon expo.

And, I knew that I would be traveling with my kids and my mom (four in total) and wanted to be somewhere central, simple—with plenty of room and no bed bugs!.

The Hilton Garden Inn at West 35th St. met all of my requirements.

The HGI is located about 200 feet from the corner of W 35th and 6th Ave—right next to the world’s most amazing Macys, right above Penn Station, and less than a block from 5th Ave. There are tons of restaurants, shops right near the hotel—including a really good Indian restaurant (which I’ll review in a later post). This was perfect for us because my mom is not that adventurous and there were going to be times that she would have to leave the hotel alone.  Being right next to Macy’s, pizza, and a Starbucks made it easier.

We were all flying into JFK and getting to the hotel from that airport could not be any easier.  We took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station. For about $11.00 per person, we boarded a comfortable train and had a nice (mostly above ground) train ride.  Just about the time the kids were getting bored with the ride (about 35 minutes), we arrived at our stop. Perfect!

They have free Wi-Fi!

The hotel rooms in NYC are small.  They all are.  It is part of the charm of the city.  Our room had two double beds, a desk, TV and stand, and a microwave, refrigerator, and a coffeemaker.  I felt that for the size they had made the best of the space and it didn’t feel cramped or uncomfortable.   It was very clean—since it has only been open a year.  (No bed bugs!)  And the beds were super comfortable (oh, they have a dial on each bed so you can chose the firmness you prefer–the kids loved this feature).

The bathroom was normal sized.  And always had hot water.

Kids standing next to the closet in the little hallway.

There was a tiny closet  and an even tinier closet that held the ironing board and iron.   One perk was the coffee maker, refrigerator, and microwave in the room.  Our last NYC hotel (The Roosevelt) did not have these amenities.  I thought their use of space was very clever.

The view was nothing special—just NYC buildings, but it was just what we wanted.  A view of the city.  (The first picture shows you what we saw….)

The lobby was tiny.  Really– there was only a couple of couches and a couple of chairs—not a destination at all–but a quick meet-up- and- go spot.  (The Roosevelt Hotel had a beautiful lobby.  One that you wanted to sit in and just relax.)  Even though it was small, the lobby was pleasant enough with free hot chocolate, coffee, and really good apple cider.

We got free breakfast as part of the package that I had booked—and it was such a nice way to start the morning.  We were able to go down and get a couple of pastries and bagels for the kids and eat them in our rooms.  Business travelers may want to indulge in the hot breakfast in their restaurant.  It always looked good but we were always on our way out for adventures.

My only complaint was with the concierge.  I called down a couple of times to ask specific questions about shuttles and taxis and was told to just come down and hail one myself.  While I don’t mind doing that, I thought the concierge is supposed to help with things like that.  Maybe I am wrong but I just got the feeling that because I wasn’t asking for fancy dining reservations–they didn’t have the time for me.

In summary, if you need a clean, convenient place to stay in Midtown—the Hilton Garden Inn on West 35th St. is perfect.   Just don’t ask the concierge for anything and you will happy as a clam.

Pros:  Clean rooms, convenient location, comfortable beds, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast with some types of stays, very nice waitstaff in restaurant, well laid out rooms.

Cons: Concierge staff. No safe in rooms (or if there was, we couldn’t find it)

Hotel Review: Hyatt, Orlando Airport (Or: Where I lost a child)

14 Nov

The Hyatt Hotel in the Orlando Airport will always be remembered as the first place I lost one of my children.  I mean really lost.

You see, we were all in the elevator together going up to our room.  The doors opened and we got off on the 9th floor.

And then I heard screaming.

Little one and I had gotten off.  The Bean, struggling with our large suitcase, did not.

The doors closed.  The elevator moved on.

What do you do?  The elevator needed a room key to move from floor to floor and I had the key so I knew he wouldn’t be able to get to another floor.  And, based on his scream I could tell he was petrified.  He was likely not thinking rationally.

Little one and I hurried back to the lobby, and with the help of a desk clerk got the elevator opened.

He was not there.

We were in the middle of the Orlando Airport.  He is only 7.

I had no idea what to do.

Just as we were about to go riding up the elevator to check each and every floor—-I saw the Bean get off another elevator with a friendly hotel woman.

He had done exactly what I had taught him—to find a kind looking woman and explain the situation.  And, luckily the women he talked to were able to get him back to us in a quick and calm manner.

That was scary.

The scariest part was we were in the middle of the airport.  Not just in a hotel next to the airport.  We were in the MIDDLE of the Airport.  The elevator could have taken him all the way down to baggage claim or ticketing.  Right in the center of a busy airport. Alone.

And that is also one great plus side of this hotel.  It is IN the airport.  The balcony of our room looked out into the middle of the airport–at the security lines and the airport restaurants.  When you are ready for your flight, you go down the elevator (be careful! The doors close quickly) and you are there.  No travel time required.  This is especailly important if you are travelling with tired kids.

The hotel is actually quite nice and even has a pool deck and a work-out room.  However, you do feel that you are in an airport once you leave your room.  And when you step out on the balcony-the hum of the airport is all you hear.

You can also get stay and park deals at this hotel which allow you to keep your car at the hotel for up to 7 days usually for the price of one nights stay.  If you are planning on paying for parking anyway—this may be the best way to go.  You get parking, relaxation and convenience for one price.

Bakery Review: Crumbs-NYC

13 Nov

I was so excited to go to NYC to run the marathon.  Not for the experience of running through all five burroughs of the city.  Not for the whole “I set a goal and I accomplished it” feeling.  No, I was looking forward to running the marathon so that I could eat cupcakes in the city.  With no shame or regret.  I wanted to run 26.2 miles so that I could eat 26.2 cupcakes.  So, I ran.  And, I ate.

However, no where near the amount of cupcakes I wanted to sample.

Really, we only had cupcakes twice.  Burgers&Cupcakes was our first stop.  And, as you may remember from this review—they were not good.  Really, at all.

Crumbs, was an entirely different story.

Look at this display case.  (Pardon the photos–at this point I hadn’t purchased my fancy SLR and had to use the camera on my iphone.)

The case was overwhelming with deliciousness.  Almost too overwhelming.  Of course, my little one shrieked with delight with the “Pinkalicious” cupcake.  And the boys were torn between various over the top cupcakes.

I had to make the executive decision.  We were going simple (and slighter less expensive).  Afterall, it was only 10:00 am.  We ordered an assortment of the basic cupcakes–chocolate/vanilla, vanilla/vanilla, vanilla/lemon, chocolate/chocolate, and chocolate/chocolate with sprinkles.

I figured the basic cupcake would give us a true representation of whether or not these were good cupcakes or just cupcakes with lots of stuff on them.

Oh. My. God.

These were the best cupcakes ever.

I can’t explain why but they were 1000 times better than those had a burgers&cupcakes and at least 10 times better than those from Cakes by Ron.

Can someone please help me understand this.  What is their secret?

My sister who hadn’t ordered herself one was very sad when she was forced to lick the cupcake wrapper for more crumbs. (She is usually 100 times prettier than this picture portrays but she had been overtaken by a insatiable urge for these crumbs and became possessed. Sorry you have to see her like this.)

A couple of other things—when we arrived there was no one there.  Not usually a good sign for a cupcake shop in the city but it was 10:00 am–and it was perfect for us.  A bunch of excited kids screaming and constantly changing their minds–my mom was the only one holding it together.   The counter staff was really patient–allowing the kids us to change their minds many, many times.

I know that I needed to go to other cupcakeries while in the city but we didn’t get to them—and I am not sorry.  Crumbs is good enough for me!

And, there are locations all throughout NYC, NJ, California—look here for locations.

You gotta get there!

Fennel Pollen-Topped Chicken with Pasta

11 Nov

When I got the package from Marx Foods filled with truffle salt, fennel pollen, pasta and dried mushrooms—I was so excited to use the gourmet ingredients to make a fancy-schmancy meal.  Especially the truffle salt.

It wasn’t until today that I realized that the smell of truffles does not sit well with me.  And, the taste is not my favorite either.  I know, I know—-how can I not like truffle salt?  I have a similar problem with cheesecake, creme brulee, and most white sauces.  I’m weird.

So, for my original recipe–I decided not to use the truffle salt and to focus on the fennel pollen (which smelled amazing!) and the pasta.  My goal was to make a meal that the kids would eat without too much fuss and chicken and pasta is always a good combination in our house.


Nice and simple.  Simple and tasty.

First, I used 1 pound of split chicken breast and cut them down the center to come up with four very thin chicken breasts.  I marinated these in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, some pepper and about 2 teaspoons of the fennel pollen.  (If I did it again, I would use a lot more. It gives such a nice flavor.)

I let the breasts sit in the fridge for about 2 hours while I made some cookies and prepared the rest of the meal.

The chicken breasts were later grilled outside—-one of the perks of living in Florida, year round outdoor grilling.  You can see the little flecks of the fennel pollen—yum!

Second, I prepared a little bit of a white sauce.  This was kind of an experiment and I wasn’t quite sure how much to make.  I melted about 3 Tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, added 3 cloves of minced garlic.  I added about 1/4 cup of chicken stock and turned up the heat–for about 4 minutes.   Once a lot of the liquid cooked away–I turned down the heat and added about 1/4 cup of heavy cream–stirring all the while. This created just a little bit of sauce but was really all that was necessary.

While I was making the sauce, I also prepared the pasta.  Marx Foods had sent me a kind of pasta I had never tried—Radiatore–which has an  interesting shape and would be good for a super thick red sauce.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t what I had planned to make.  Maybe next time.

Once all the pieces were prepared, the pasta was very simple to throw together.

In a large bowl, I layered about one-third of the cooked pasta, a large handful of spinach, one-third of the white sauce–and then continued the process until all the ingredients had been used.  I topped the entire thing with grilled chicken cut into strips and a healthy amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

I tossed it around and served it with roasted Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) sprinkled with truffle salt.

Ooh la la!

P.S.–Stay tuned for the Kabocha recipe–something everyone will want to make.  So good and super healthy too!

New York City: Recap

11 Nov

As I suspected might happen, we were having way too much fun to keep posting each and everyday from NYC.

Enjoy these photos of the kids in the city…….we had a great time and I think NYC is the perfect place for kids to go when they are young.  It is so diverse, exciting and a fabulous walking city.  We walked miles and miles each day and the kids never complained–there was always so much to see.

We were the most colorful family in the city!

The theme of our trip was hot chocolate, cupcakes and pizza.  Everyday, we had at least one of these things–usually all three.

Doesn't everyone let their children explore Times Square alone?

Hot Chocolate, cupcakes, pizza and WALKING.  We did a lot of walking (and I did a lot of running….)  The kids also really wanted to stay ahead of us—I think the energy of the city was as exciting to them as it was to us.

After seeing West Side Story, the kids were fascinated with performing on Broadway someday…..and seeing their name in lights.


Waiting for their 15 seconds of fame (and panhandling at the same time).
The kids on a Times Square billboard.

Times Square with Tiffany (my sister).

Stay tuned for a report from the marathon, reviews of the hotel, reviews of Crumbs, delicious Indian Food, a New york tour book and more……..(oh yeah, I do have a recipe or two to post soon).  Busy busy!