Preface to a Beautiful Food Special Edition

Rosemary and thyme with salt and pepper

The kitchen is not just a place for cooking everyday food for my family.  I am a cook by profession. Despite and perhaps because of my profession I believe that food is not only essential to life, but equal to happiness among friends and family. My mother taught me the love of cooking and I am intent upon extending love and good memories to my children from the kitchen table.

I realize that we are a bit out of the ordinary as a family. My oldest child sat next to me while I cooked at nine months old, playing with tea cups and measuring spoons. As a toddler he stood happily on a wooden chair leaning against the countertop. His preferred toys were wooden spoons, mixing bowls and flour. My youngest came to work with me as a baby and often slept in a vegetable crate filled up with blankets while I cooked and chopped my way through a professional kitchen.  Later she pushed around her own wooden cart through my work space, pretending to shop for groceries and prepare for dinner by filling up her miniature grocery cart with tomatoes and eggplant and any other ingredients within her reach. At preschool she decided she wanted to open a restaurant when she grew up. She even had a name for it. Her restaurant fantasy was called “Mmmmmmm”.

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Beautiful Food Special Edition: Homemade herbal salts

Part I.

Homemade herbal salts

Celtic sea salt tastes like the ocean, is pale green and moist in texture. Himalaya salt is pink in color, has a distinct mineral-like flavor and the grains are very hard. Fleur de sel and Maldon salt are light and flaky. Making herbal salts with them is simple since the salt grains soft. Experiment with different kinds of salt combined with aromatic herbs, doubling or tripling the recipes below. Herbal salts keep well for months when kept in glass jars with a well-fitted lids. Continue reading

Beautiful Food Special Edition : Vinegars and Spices

Vinegar trioPart II.

Vinegars and Spices.

vinegar form the basis of a natural kitchen when the accent is on vegetables.  Whether made from apples or raspberries, or from fermented red and white wine, this most sour of ingredients goes generally untouched on the pantry shelf until it is poured over greens with a drizzle of olive oil.  I like to steam vegetables in warm vinegar baths to serve them as an appetizer or as a filling for salad.  I discovered while experimenting with pickling that vinegar marinades taste better with time. The cooking liquids left over from pickling cauliflower, beets, red onions and radishes become colored vinegars for salad dressing.  I make a habit of mixing double recipes of vinegars and spices and save what I don’t use right away in glass jars in the refrigerator. The results of my efforts give a shelf full of interesting colors and flavors readily available for the making of homemade vinaigrettes and jar dressings The following vinegar trio are made in no time at all and make activity in the kitchen just that much more interesting. Continue reading

Beautiful Food Special Edition : Family Favorite Vinaigrettes

Olive oil and herbs

Part III.

Family Favorite Vinaigrettes

With herbal salts and homemade infused vinegars, making jam jar dressings to dip raw vegetables in, or vinaigrettes to toss through roasted vegetables is effortless. The following vinaigrettes  serve as a stepping stone to many simply dressed vegetable dishes in my kitchen.  Like the vinegars above, they are tools to uncomplicated cooking. Homemade vinaigrette makes a perfect dip and will keep well for at least a week in the refrigerator. Make more than needed for one particular meal because this makes cooking just that much easier. Continue reading

Beautiful Food Special Edition : Fall Vegetables and Jam Jar Dressings

Rainbow carrot bunch on newspaperPart IV.

Fall Vegetables and Jam Jar Dressings

With herbal salts and infused vinegars as building blocks, making vegetables interesting is a question of picking and choosing. The following series of recipes are made with the fall and winter vegetables chosen by Jennifer Tyler Lee in her book “The 52 New Foods Challenge”.  Each combination illustrated can be modified by exchanging one in-season vegetable with another. Cooking is an intuitive process and my recipes are blueprints to creativity in the kitchen. Continue reading

Rainbow chard and cavolo nero with garlic and red peppers

Rainbow and cavolo vertical photoSince cooking is my profession, following the seasons is more than a simple guideline. Fresh ingredients are the very tools to my kitchen and vegetables are the tangible instruments of my work. A weekly visit to the farmers market is my moment for inspiration. Those who are capable of farming and cultivating food are fascinating to me because of their connection to the earth.  Although I know what vegetables to buy when and where and why, I know much more about how to cook. Learning how to design and plan a garden patch is high on my priority list.  And for this reason, between cooking, thinking about cooking, and writing about food, I read avidly about garden to table projects.

In order to gain the knowledge and the confidence to dig my own hands into the ground, I make it a habit to visit farms and gardening projects during my travels.  This summer I had the opportunity to visit the Edible Schoolyard Project at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California. This illustrative garden created by Alice Waters, chef and owner of the restaurant Chez Panisse, is built around a public school, in a small paradise east of San Francisco. The garden is cultivated by the students and their teachers. They not only design and plan and their own garden, they cook their harvest from the inspiring kitchen bordering on their edible schoolyard as well. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Alice Waters this piece of land has become exemplary of innovative food education in the United States.

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Rosemary polenta and pizza gialla

Polenta pizza with tomato and pepperI grew up in northern Italy surrounded by Renaissance architecture and mysterious Venetian works of art. I experienced childhood in the romantic countryside and dreamt of becoming a writer. In my teens I filled my first notebooks with philosophical thoughts and poems, interwoven with recipes. My mind and my pen wandered as I sat at a white baroque-style desk, gazing at the purple Alps from my bedroom window. I soaked up the Italian way of life effortlessly, where food, people and culture are so closely interwoven. I learned how to cook from my mother, while living in a part of the world where grilled polenta and risotto are an essential part of weekly homemade meals. Cooking from scratch came naturally at our house and the kitchen was the center of a vivid social life.

My idyllic Italian past forms the foundation for a rich legacy of shared family recipes. Cooking is the constant factor in my life and I have written about food, culture and society for as long as I can remember. My love of the kitchen, for the simple beauty of the changing seasons and for sitting down at the table with friends and family, are habits I take with me wherever I go. In the course of my travels, I have come to realize that cooking is an inspiring activity appreciated by all. To my mind, exchanging food brings the world together. It is what we all have in common, no matter which culture or country we come from.

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