Monday, February 27, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-Five (Culinary Intuitiveness and a Recipe for Some Really Tasty Meatballs)

Intuition comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is simply a sense about a person. “Hey, I like that guy!” or “That person gives me the creeps. Don’t know why. It’s just my intuition.”

Sometimes intuition manifests itself in more concrete forms – like in the ability to create a meal that tastes so good it engenders in each of its beneficiaries a sense of belonging.

I view this as CULINARY INTUITIVENESS or a Midas Touch for Taste.

Given that creating good food is one of my favorite pastimes, I am lucky to have a business partner and friend with culinary intuitiveness.

Is this a case of nature vs. nuture? Can someone be born with the ability to satisfy the palate? Or is it because Frank grew up Italian in Brooklyn? Or that he owned several restaurants with his brothers and wife? For whatever reason, it is clear that he has a Midas Touch for Taste.

Every recipe he has ever shared with me has been golden. While I endeavor to make a close second with careful attention to the ingredients and the instructions for chopping and sautéing, the flavors I create are good, but inevitably miss the mark. In my culinary attempts, I am like a student of a great painter. I might be able to paint discernable water lilies, but Monet I will never be.

Frank gives very clear instructions on the ingredients and process, but he simply cannot impart his culinary intuitiveness on others. That is his alone.

So here is Frank’s recipe for some of the best meatballs I have ever tasted. And, while my rendition of this simple masterpiece was good (and if you follow these instructions, yours will be too), the meal I created lacked the subtleties of the flavors that come solely with an intuition that by its nature cannot be shared.

1 pound ground pork (Frank uses a center cut pork chop, bones it, and put its in the food processor until it is ground, but not mushy)
1 pound ground beef (Frank uses sirloin steak, bones it, and puts it in the food processor until it is ground, but not mushy)
3 medium size eggs
2 carrots
1-2 stalks of celery
1 onion
2-4 cloves of garlic
1/4 bunch Italian parsley
1.5 to 2TBL salt (or to taste)
1.5 to 2TBL pepper (or to taste)
2 TBL grated parmesan cheese (YIKES, this is what I forgot!!)
Half loaf of stale bread (I used Spelt Right bread)
1/2 cup of bread crumbs (I used Spelt Right bread crumbs)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for frying

Chop the vegetable ingredients in small chucks and then place in food processor until they are chopped finely, but not mush. Put aside in a separate dish.

Place the ground meat and three cracked eggs in a separate dish.

Soak the bread in water to make it soft and then drain the water by squeezing the bread.

Combine all of the ingredients, including the salt, pepper and grated cheese and blend together with your hands. Form round balls with your hands a bit smaller than a golf ball.

In a deep pan heat enough olive oil so that the oil reaches half way up the meatball. Fry on each side until browned and cooked in the center. Drain on plate with paper towel. I also baked some of these in a baking dish covered with olive oil. The baked ones have less fat, but were not nearly as good. Crunchy = fried, mushy= baked. Your choice.

You can eat these alone garnished with a salad, or put in your favorite pasta sauce. Here’s a link to a post with Frank’s pasta sauce recipe (no need to add the ground beef if you are serving with meatballs)."

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-Four (The Five Star Alfredo Sauce Recipe Scratched on a Paper Bag)

You never know what you will find scratched on a paper bag.

My son, Spencer, and I were lucky to be the beneficiaries of a FIVE STAR alfredo recipe inked on said receptacle.

Spencer has been lobbying for fettuccine alfredo for several weeks. The problem is that he can't eat regular wheat without feeling really lousy, so going to an Italian restaurant is not an option.

Fortunately, we now live in NYC, one of the most gastronomically diverse cities in the world. And, we live close to one of the best neighborhoods for Italian provisions, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

Shall I admit that I have become slightly addicted to the seemingly infinite supply of homemade pastas, fresh mozzarella and ricotta, imported cheeses, locally cured meats, and sinful desserts? Not to mention the wine, cappuccino, and friendly conversation?

On this President's Day, the family set out on an excursion to buy Italian groceries to make the coveted alfredo sauce. Destination? Teitel Bros. on Arthur Avenue.

We were headed there not only for the cheeses and imported butter, but for the farro (emmer variety) pasta. Farro is a concept "deeply rooted in Italian tradition." The term "farro" is reserved for three cultivated hulled ancient wheat species, including einkorn (farro piccolo), emmer (farro medio), and spelt (farro grande). The beauty is that we know that Spencer can eat each of these varieties without getting the modern wheat blues.

As I was searching for the farro pasta hidden behind other tempting provisions, the owner Ed, asked what I was looking for. I reminded him that I'm the spelt lady, who was in the week before, and was looking for the farro we purchased the other day. "Ohhh, the lawyer, I remember," he said. He moved aside the bottles of olive oil, and opened the gateway to the Farro Pasta. I felt like a hoarder as I stacked 6 boxes in my arms. "The kid wants fettucine alfredo," I said as I tried to clarify that I was not chowing down all the pasta myself.

"Would you like a recipe?" Ed inquired. "Mike here is an expert. He owned a five star Italian restaurant in NJ. He has the best alfredo recipe." Spencer beamed at me as if we had just hit the jackpot. "Absolutely," I said. As I tried to scratch down the recipe, however, Ed, Mike, and now John saw that my attempts to keep up with the recitation of the recipe was becoming futile. Mike took over, got a paper bag, and a pen, and unlocked the key to the secret of a divine alfredo sauce (see photo above).

Good thing Spencer was around as a second set of ears. I did not quite get all of the directions straight and the writing on the paper bag was slightly cryptic. Between the two of us, mom and son, we were able to decipher the alfredo recipe. The result was close to divine. For fear that I might not recite the recipe as it should be, I will reveal only the secret ingredients (fresh ground nutmeg, Italian butter, and an egg yolk) and you will have to go to Teitel's yourself for the recipe and the magic.

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-Three (On Being Prepared)

Sundays are my days to prepare the
meals for the week.

Regardless of what I have penciled in my calendar, the week inevitably takes twists and turns and morphs into something completely unrecognizable from that which appeared on my calendar.

Is it just me? Or, does this happen to everyone?

Sundays are kind of like my emergency preparedness day – my kitchen looks like we are anticipating an ice storm or nor' easter or worse, but really I am just preparing for another predictably unpredictable week, two very hungry kids after long days at school, and two very tired parents after grueling work days.

Usually Sunday’s pickings can be rationed through Wednesday, sometimes they last through Thursday.

By Friday, we start foraging for berries, insects, and roots – luckily Sunday is not too far around the corner.

Making these meals is an adventure because NY offers a complete tapestry of food choices.Above, I am shopping on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, the other "Little Italy" at Teitel's Italian Shop. I got some incredible cheeses and farro-emmer pasta (there are three types of farro - emmer, einkorn and spelt) there and cut a few deals on prices buying in bulk.

So on that particular Sunday, I made Chicken Parmesan, Farro Pie (which was essentially baked ziti, but I varied the recipe with fresh mozzarella and farro pasta), and Walnut Pepper Pies made with Spelt Right Pizza Dough. I just threw together the chicken parmesan so have no recipe to share, but the Farro Pie, and Walnut Pepper Pies are worth replicating. Here is the linked recipe for the Walnut Pepper Pies. And the recipe for the Baked Farro Pie.


One organic onion (finely chopped)

4-5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped or minced with salt)

1/4 – 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Pomi – crushed tomatoes – all natural, no citric acid – in a carton (no BPA in packaging)

One Pound Grass Fed Ground Beef (optional)

1-2 Teaspoons of Sea Salt

Ground pepper to taste

6-10 leaves of Fresh Basil (chopped finely). Can use dried basil

Two packages of FARRO pasta (from Zeitel's). I used ziti and spaghetti because I did not have enough ziti (if you do this, note the different cook times)

One small container of whole milk ricotta

One half to one pound of natural mozzarella (shredded or pulled apart)


Place chopped onion and garlic in olive oil in large stainless steel pan. Saute until onions are brown. Add ground beef. Saute until browned. Add Pomi tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Add one teaspoon of organic sugar if desired. Stir all ingredients. Cook on medium low for 20-25 minutes. Stirring occasionally. Add chopped basil.

In the meantime, boil and drain pasta according to instructions on panel. Rinse, and then toss with extra virgin olive oil to keep from sticking.

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a 9 inch glass baking dish, spread a little of the sauce on the bottom to keep the pasta from sticking. In the sauce pan, toss the pasta sauce and pasta. When thoroughly tossed, place the pasta in the baking dish. Spread ricotta on top. Then sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake until bubbling on top. Guaranteed to be a hit with the kids.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-Two (I should NEVER forget how much I love my kids!)

It took an inquiry from Jim, a good friend visiting from Maine, to bring my attention to a poem that 9 year old Olivia had written. "Beth, did you see this?" "No, Jim. I haven't had time."

Then, I realized it was not because Olivia didn't try to show it to me, but that I scooted her away one too many times. "I'm too busy Olivia! Can you play in your room while mom makes dinner, does the dishes, does the laundry, cleans out the cat litter, works on her business, works on her business, works on her business." Gulp! In my rush to be everything, I neglected to see some of the most beautiful things right in front of my eyes. My children. Gulp, again!

Little Olivia is a force of her own. She is a talented writer, has a keen sense of justice ("it isn't fair!!!") and an independent mind. Do NOT expect silence if you cross Olivia. She will give you a piece of her mind...and then some.

But, she is also a kind hearted trooper. She has been trudging along since she was 5 watching as mom often disappeared for what seemed like endless moments into the morrows of her business - day after day, morrow after morrow. Sometimes, it just hurts. She told me so.

But, she also expresses how proud she is. "My mom invented something. She created Spelt Right." And, she says that with pride, even though under her breath she grumbles about that demanding sibling - the one that doesn't talk back, or poke fun, but the one that grabs mom's attention, moment after moment, day after day, 'morrow after 'morrow.

Like with any sibling rivalry, there is love there too. And, in the piece that Jim discovered crumpled on the couch, Olivia expressed her love for that sibling.

Here's her poem.

"Spelt....what is spelt? Spelt, is not smelt or some sort of felt, its a grain a healthy scrumptious grain. Spelt is easier to DYGEST and here is the rest. No more stomach aches and no more pain just as long as you eat this grain. How can I get spelt product? Here's how. Just go to now!" Olivia

No recipe with this post. Just a hug and kiss and a squeeze for Olivia - today, tomorrow, and forever.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lunch Box Chronicles: Day One Hundred Fifty-One (On Simple Things in Life and Turkey and Cheese in a Pocket)

OK, it's true. The more I try to simplify my life, the more I fill in the holes with more to do. It's just who I am. Things don't change that easily. And. one thing that hasn't changed and likely never will is my obsession with feeding my family and friends and colleagues and neighbors well (and looking for simple solutions for busy lives). Look out neighborhood! I might show up with basket of goodies or some warm soup!!!

Here's a simple recipe. Perfect for school lunches or an after school snack. Turkey and cheese in a Spelt Right pocket. YUMM!


Ingredients: One
Spelt Right Pizza dough fully thawed and proofed. (That means that it should fill the bag after it has risen). Your favorite cold meats and cheeses. Mayonnaise or other dressing if desired. We used all natural turkey and cheddar cheese.

Lightly oil (with EVOO) a stainless steel baking pan. Preheat oven to 375-400F

Cut dough into 6-8 equal pieces. Stretch dough to
about 1/8 inch thick in circle. Place a fair amount of turkey and cheese or other filling on half of dough. Gently stretch over berries and pinch on ends (see pictures).Place on baking sheet; bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly browned on the bottom.

Can be served cold or reheated. My kids had these for lunch and after school snacks and loved them! As Olivia said, "this is not food; it is art."